(Thanks to my cousin Zayn for finding this photo for me)
If you read my last post for 2014, then you know that I was hoping for a better year in 2015. Not one hour after I hit the publish button on that post, I found out that my great-uncle had passed away earlier in the day. That wasn’t how I thought this year would start.
My family and I headed up to Kingston, Ontario on January 2nd to attend the funeral. It’s a long drive to Kingston, so I had lots of time to think about my experiences with this great-uncle, whom I affectionately referred to as “Papa K”. As I played through my visits to Kingston in my head, I realized that some of my memories were tied to food. I think that’s pretty common – having memories that are tied to certain meals or dishes, right? So, I wanted to share a few of my memories here.
When I was little, maybe 6 or 7 years old, my great-uncle owned a large property in Kingston. On this property there was a house, a pool that often had frogs (or maybe they were toads) swimming in it, and some apple trees. I always thought that Papa K and his wife (Auntie G) had a whole orchard, but looking back it was just a few trees.
Going to Kingston was always a special outing. Partly because it was so far away, and partly because I always got special treatment there. Auntie G and Papa K were like extra-cool grandparents, and I was always excited to visit them. They knew me well too. They would time our arrival and have hot food waiting for us, so we could eat as soon as we walked through the door. This made me happy, because I was always starving after the long car ride and I enjoyed their cooking.
Sometimes Papa K would make a delicate omelette with wild mushrooms from the backyard. I always wondered how he knew which mushrooms were ok to eat, but I never asked. I trusted his judgement and happily ate my omelette with hot buttered toast.
Other times, Auntie G would make blueberry pancakes or waffles. These were a special treat because my mom almost never made waffles at home, let alone put blueberries in them. I don’t remember if the berries were from their property as well, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.
Papa liked to take us out for day trips too, which often involved ferry rides, ice cream and visits to his son’s bicycle shop. All exciting stuff for a little kid!
Besides the food and excursions, another highlight of my trips to Kingston was seeing other family members. I was most excited when there were “cousins” there to play with. I really didn’t know who these cousins were, and it didn’t matter. They were fun to play with, and I knew they were related to me somehow, and that was enough for me.
I should probably elaborate on that a bit… In my family, every young person is a “cousin”, and every older person is an aunt or uncle. It doesn’t matter if that person is actually your second cousin, twice removed (I’ve always wondered what that means, twice removed?)
Anyhow, one of these “cousins” (actually a second-cousin) was named Ali.
At first, I saw Ali so rarely that I could only remember him as the kid who would dunk me into the pool at Papa’s house. Later on though, as I headed into high school, we exchanged contact information and frequently chatted via email and MSN.
When our families got together for weddings, funerals and other occasions, Ali and I would chat like old friends. He was a little bit older than me, and could always relate to what I was dealing with in life. He would also confide in me when he was sad or frustrated, and we would talk things through.
So, it was a shock when Ali took his own life when I was in my third year of university. I had been chatting with him online a day or so before he died, and had no idea that he was headed in that direction. His death left me shaken and upset. I flew out to Vancouver (where he had been living) for his funeral with my aunt and some other cousins.
I don’t remember much from the funeral. I spent four days in Vancouver, and then came home to deal with the midterms that I had missed while I was away. Most of my professors were understanding, but I’ll never forget my law professor who refused to let me make up my exam. She told me that I had no business in leaving school to attend a funeral because the person was already dead, and there was nothing I could do for them anyway.
Some people have no heart.
I was so wrapped up in my own sadness and frustration that I didn’t stop to think about how other people around me were feeling. I can’t imagine what it felt like for Papa K and Auntie G to bury their grandson.
We had already stopped visiting as much, because my brother and I were busy with school, and now the visits were a bit solemn. Papa K and Auntie G had moved to a smaller home, and they were both dealing with a variety of health issues. Auntie G did her best to be cheerful, and kept to her usual routines. Even though she had lost much of her eyesight, she managed to cook delicious meals. I was particularly fond of her grilled vegetables. I have no idea what she put on her zucchini and eggplant, but I’ve never been able to recreate the flavours at home.
The last time that we saw her, she was teaching my brother and I how to play some old board games that she had. We sat at the table in her kitchen and played for a while, sharing laughs and all kinds of little stories.
Auntie G passed away about two years ago. When she died, I wondered how much longer Papa K would live for. To me, they seemed to still be very much in love. I wasn’t sure how he could live without her.
He did live without her, for a little while. He moved in with his son’s family, and lived happily despite dealing with a severe bone disease. Although we are sad to have lost him, we can be thankful that he is no longer suffering and can finally reunite with his wife in the afterlife. I hope they are enjoying a batch of blueberry waffles there.