Food for a Small and Intimate Family Christmas
This is the post I hoped I’d never have to write, obviously I knew I would have to write it one day, but not so soon, and not during Advent and the run up to the festive period. My dad died last week, and, if I am honest it wasn’t totally unexpected as he had been ill on and off for some time, but it was much earlier than we all thought and it was a huge shock. I took that dreaded phone call in the middle of the night, with mum in tears, and the news that “dad had gone”……it’s all a bit of a blur from then on, but I do know that I spent the next six to seven hours face-timing mum and talking to the ambulance crew, the police liaison officer and the local nurse, who had all come in to keep her company until my sister and I could get up to North Yorkshire…..and I didn’t eat for over 36 hours or have any sleep for 24hrs.
Dad was in the Royal Navy for many years, and he loved the Senior Service; he left a few years after I was born, because he didn’t want to be away at sea for long periods of time with a wife and a new baby – he then went on to work for Government Communications for the rest of his working life. We, mum, me and my sister, followed dad all over the world with his job, from South Africa and Hong Kong to Cyprus and all over the UK. When he finally retired, he and mum settled in North Yorkshire, a county they both loved. Dad was born in Hayes in Middlesex, but his father came from the North East of England and his mother was a Norfolk girl, but he loved the wild “big sky” and coastline of the East Coast of Yorkshire, where he and mum have lived happily for the past thirty-six years.
He passed away next to mum after going to bed, without the need to go back into hospital, and that’s a blessing, but, he’d obviously hid just how ill he was from all of the family, as it was very sudden. Just ONE week before, I’d been visiting my parents, and although he was struggling with COPD and a chest infection, he was bright and witty, as usual, and he’d researched all the bus and train times for me for my journey back to London, where I was travelling to for a press trip. And, just FIVE weeks before he died, we (Hannah my daughter and her boyfriend Alex and me) met him and Mum at Burn Hall in York for a birthday weekend for Mum’s 83rd birthday – he’d driven there and back as well as enjoying two evening meals and two generous breakfasts. He also managed to walk down to the York Bird of Prey Centre with the rest of the family, to see the birds and enjoyed a couple of cups of coffee in the cafe there in-between flying displays.
How do you cope with such grief? The loss of a parent is raw and hard, it steals some of your childhood away, it also brings your own mortality into question and leaves you with a gaping hole in your life; and then there’s the parent that’s left behind – in this case that’s my mum, she and dad had been married for fifty-nine years, being cruelly robbed of celebrating their Diamond Anniversary by only a few months. We, the family, now have to ensure she has all of our love as well as practical support, in order to help sustain her through the rocky months that lie ahead, and that seems hard right now, as we all try to deal with such a big bereavement, but we’ll get there together. And then there’s Christmas to deal with……what shall we do, cancel it or celebrate it? Well, we’ve all decided to celebrate it in a small and intimate way, as a celebration in memory of a beloved husband, wonderful dad and amazing granddad. There will be a tree and lots of candles to shine in his name, as dad LOVED this time of year and would be sad if we didn’t carry out some of the festive traditions, that he and mum observed.
As well as this post being a personal tribute to my dad today, I also want to share a few recipes that I WILL be preparing and serving this Christmas; they were favourites of dad and recipes that I grew up with; there won’t be Christmas crackers, silly games or lots of revelry, but we will set a place at the table for him and I will fill the house with candles and the Christmas music that he loved so much…..we will “Splice the Mainbrace” and “Up Spirits” to the most wonderful, charismatic, kind, warm, funny and intelligent person that I had the pleasure of calling my ‘DAD”. A BIG thanks for all of your on-line support and messages of sympathy, your kind messages have helped me through this very sad period – I’ll be back in a few days with some traveller’s tales and some new recipes for the season, I hope you all have a lovely weekend, Karen
Dad LOVED Fruit Cake, so we will be eating Christmas Cake and all manner of fruit cakes during the festive period…..
We always had a boiled ham or gammon at Christmas and it was a favourite of dad’s – with salad, in sandwiches or with pease pudding…..
We all love a good pickled onion, and these pickled shallots WILL be making an appearance on the Christmas Tea Time table, with a big chunk of Cheddar cheese, another favourite with dad……
Dad loved dumplings, and especially baked dumplings, so we will be enjoying this recipe at some time over the festive period…..
Dad had a VERY sweet tooth, and loved a GOOD home made trifle, so I’ll be making a big creamy concoction for Christmas Day Tea Time…..this recipe is a FABULOUS one….
When a Royal Naval person passes away, it’s known as “Shipmate Across the Bar” and this is the poem that is associated with the passing of a sailor, when they’ve “Crossed the Bar”……
Crossing the Bar
(Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
‘Crossing the Bar’ is a term generally used by the military/ex-military and more specifically the Royal Navy to politely inform and advise of a person that has died. The term is taken from a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson as meaning to cross the “sandbar” between the tide or river of life, with its outgoing “flood,” and the ocean that lies beyond death, the “boundless deep,” to which we return. The “Pilot” being God. He wrote the poem after a serious illness while at sea, crossing the Solent from Aldworth to Farringford on the Isle of Wight
Dad opening his Christmas presents in 2014