“some day soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That’s when I will be truly dead – when I exist in no one’s memory. I thought a lot about how someone very old is the last living individual to have known some person or cluster of people. When that person dies, the whole cluster dies, too, vanishes from the living memory. I wonder who that person will be for me. Whose death will make me truly dead?” Irvin D. Yalom

 

 

Before we moved into this house, I had never tasted a feijoa fruit. Now, six weeks later, we daily collect buckets of them from the ground under the tree, beside the driveway. Also called a pineapple guava, the little fruit derives from South America and is popular in New Zealand. You can eat it stewed and eaten with ice cream,  use the pulp to make cakes, or you can cut the fruit in half and eat it with a spoon. I have done all three, while putting out calls on Facebook for people to come and take some fruit from us, handing over great bagful’s whenever the opportunity arises

 

During the Spring last year, my ninety-year-old paternal grandfather was diagnosed with multiple cancers , located all through his body. He was stoical about it at first, sure that he could beat it, having been mostly healthy all of his life. However because of his age and the extent of the cancer, the specialists decided not to actively treat it, save for a couple of small sessions of radiation to alleviate the pain in the tumour on his scalp.

 

When I heard the news about his diagnosis, and prognosis, I started writing a series of poems about him.  I keep going back to the poems when I am sad, adding and subtracting poems and stanzas, shifting line breaks and full stops, as though in doing so, I might wield some power over his fate. I don’t know what to do with these meandering poems. I have considered giving them to my grandfather, though I have no idea what he would make of them.

 

The last time that I saw him at home was a couple of days after Christmas last year. My husband and children and I were heading to Kiama the next day to see my husband’s mum, and when we went to the beloved brown house, my Uncle and his three daughters were there. I was sitting in Papa’s red velvet lounge chair while he sat by the windows that overlook the slope of the hill, the Waranga Basin, and beyond it the faint blue suggestion of Mount Buller. My cousin Pru, bent over Papa, gave him a kiss and said with certainty and affection, ‘I love you, Mr Perry!’ I was filled with a mixture of admiration and envy of her demonstrative nature.

 

Two nights later, Papa fell and broke his hip. He has never spent another night at home.  This week he was shifted to the nursing home where my grandmother died five years ago. It is not a place that anyone would ever have wished on him, though he has multiple visitors every day. Since he has been in hospital the local brass band have come to play for him and present him with a plaque for his lifelong services, and the historical society that my father helped found and which Papa has always been very active in, have named a music room after him. It is important to people to let such a good man know how much he has been appreciated in his lifetime, while he still lives.

 

Last time I visited, I brought a feijoa for him to try. I thought that there was some consolation in trying new foods at this stage of life. He was going to have it with his breakfast the next day, but I never heard what he thought of it.  He forgets so much.

 

 

I have been trying different recipes to use the feijoas. I found one cake recipe that my autistic son likes, nice and plain and beige, which tastes delicious heated up with cream as pudding, but the next time that I went to make a cake, I found one that used two whole cups of the feijoa pulp, along with a generous amount of walnuts, sultanas and all spice. The resulting loaf cake was heavy, rich and fragrant, reminiscent of a more traditional fruitcake. I made two cakes that day, one for home and one for my husband to take to work. My almost three-year-old daughter did the stirring, along with a hefty dose of tasting. When I tasted the cake, I thought of Papa, and his love of a fruitcake, and determined to make another cake and send some home with my mother for him to try.

 

Scooping out the green flesh from the feijoas, chopping walnuts, measuring and mixing, I felt like the character of Tita in the book Like Water for Chocolate, pouring my love and admiration for my grandfather into the cake batter, so that when he tasted it, he would taste also of my love for him, and my sorrow.

 

Each time that I see him now; more has been taken, pieces of his life stolen in mean, ever increasing increments. In the end, neither poems nor feijoa cake can help allay the effects of the long, slow and painful road that he is travelling to its inevitable end, but such things work at least as a kind of salve for my own heart, which must endure, as memories endure, after Papa has left us.

Linking up with #IBOT with Kylie Purtell