Tuesday 23 June 2015

Hello/Goodbye: Summer plum cake

It's his birthday today. The day after Body & Soul. It hadn't occurred to me. I'd forgotten all about it. Until today. I had a conversation with a student recently. She waited until the others had left at the end of class and then admitted that she was stressed, anxious, couldn't sleep because she didn't want to go back to Italy, that she wasn't ready and yet felt under pressure to do the "right thing" and keep everyone at home happy. She talked about her life moving in waves and I told her that that was normal. Life does move in waves and once I saw it like that, I became calmer. Before I realized that life could be compared to waves, not just with its ups and downs but with its mystery, magic, heavy slabs that annihilate you and warm waves that lap and push you back to the safety of the beach, I was lost. I was washed out to sea believing that I should have some master plan that I should be following to a T. The fundamentally flexible nature of waves and their elemental force when applied to my life enabled me to be at peace with whatever happened. I'd just do my best to follow the way I wanted to feel while riding through life and heading in the direction that made me happiest. I'd do my best.

Then I went for a walk on the beach today with a great friend. We talked about so many things and one of those topics was inevitably about men or their lack of presence in our lives to a meaningful extent. I mentioned his name and some situations we had gone through together. It felt strange to utter his name. The whole walk, I had forgotten it was his birthday. Just now though, my entire day came together. The conversation with her about men in our lives, the uneasy feeling I had all day and then mistaking a guy walking ahead in the same hoodie, jeans, bag combo he would wear this morning as I walked to work.

It all got me thinking about hellos and goodbyes. When you say hello to a person, greet them and let them into your life, you have no way of knowing what will happen or how long it's going to last. If you'd asked either of us a few years ago, we both would have speculated that "this was it". I know, because we talked about it often, how lucky we were to have met each other. But it didn't last and it was bitter and sorrowful and painful to the last. We said too many goodbyes so when the final one came along, we were well practiced. It didn't make it any less painful.

In my job as an English teacher, I say hello and goodbye to students on a weekly basis. New students come into my life every Monday and inevitably, some student, if not more than one, leaves on a Friday, back to Korea or Brazil, never to be seen again. Every twenty four weeks, we change our level and suddenly, we, the teachers, leave our students. We say goodbye and pass them onto a different teacher and we greet an entirely new class. We may see them at a social or in the corridors but it's a given that it's over. For a long time, it was something I couldn't figure out. Before, I was too concerned with events surrounding him and how to make it all OK again that I didn't engage with my students and I ignored their appreciation for the work I do.

Last Friday, I went with them to Trinity in the sunshine to have a picnic together and say goodbye. I was stunned by their words of thanks and their gifts. I was stunned at just how much they cared about me. Two cards, a bracelet, chocolate and so many hugs. I was bowled over by their generosity. Teaching them, helping them, listening are all actions I had taken for granted, part of what I felt was my duty. I never realized that it's not something that all people do in their jobs. I never once thought that listening to them or taking an interest in their lives or challenging them in class would have an impact comparable to the impact I thought I would have on the man I loved.

I made them cake, sweet summer plum cake, filled with love and bright, vibrant plums. I wanted to take the time to show them I care. I wanted to put the effort in. I wanted to demonstrate that this was not the average goodbye but something heartfelt with all the love I would normally have dedicated to him, especially on his birthday. As students leave, others follow and memories and friendships are made. The me of a few years ago thought I was doomed to repeat one goodbye after another. Goodbye to love, to family, friendships, dreams, opportunities, all wrapped up in him. The truth is, the more I say hello to new friendships, dreams and life in general, the better my life is and the more loved I feel for people who appreciate and accept me for who I am.

So here's a summer plum cake recipe to celebrate the summer, friendship, greeting the sun and making memories. Bake it with love and share it around.

And for you who was my man. Happy birthday. I hope this year is full of joy and almost a year on, I'm glad we said goodbye that day.

1 cup soft butter (not margarine)
1 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
15 small black plums (washed, stoned, halved and quartered)
1/2 cup flaked almonds

Preheat oven to 190 C. In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar to a light mix. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each one, then the vanilla. Sieve the flour, baking powder and cinnamon into the bowl, gradually and stir through until the mixture is thick.
Line a large 2 inch baking tray or two small trays with grease proof paper. Spread out the mixture into the tray(s). Place the plums skin side down onto the mixture, in or orderly or completely haphazard and then sprinkle the almonds on top. Place in the middle tray and bake for 25-35 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool before slicing and serving. Enjoy!  

To Ezgi, my legend of a student, thank you for making my year with this thoughtful portrait X

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful words Grace, really thoughful and peaceful.
    Your photos are also divine, that cake looks amazing! X