It’s strange how many memories a simple packet of biscuits can hold. My brother and I spent our primary school holidays mostly at my grandparents’ house. And like clockwork, at around 3pm each day, we would hear the sounds of the kettle boiling, followed by the clinking of china cups. Then, the long awaited call came: “Tea party!”
We’d rush into the front room, usually reserved for guests or, in their absence, for my grandad. He’d blow on his tea to cool the surface, hand us both a Rich Tea biscuit, and let us dunk it in the cup. And there we sat, two young kids and an elderly man, enjoying a tea party in front of an episode of Deal or No Deal.
Now, my family recall and share stories of the consequences of his hot temper during his younger years. But, despite the tales that formed his formidable reputation, he never once shouted at us for leaving the biscuit in too long.
“There we sat, two young kids and an elderly man, enjoying a tea party in front of an episode of Deal or No Deal.”
When he passed away in February 2019, it was the first time I had experienced real grief. While the hollow feeling of loss was devastating, it was the lingering expectation that took me most by surprise. Two years later, I still walk into the living room he once paced and expect to see him sitting in his favourite yellow armchair by the patio door. Looking out into the garden to check the weather. Each time my eyes involuntarily flicker to the corner, the weight of his absence brings a lump to my throat again.
Throughout his life, he was a respected figure amongst the Bangladeshi community. At his janazah (funeral), the car park was packed full of people he had once helped. People who knew him when he first emigrated to the UK. People who had sought his advice. They remembered him as a stoic man, one who very rarely betrayed vulnerability and wasn’t to be crossed. My memories of him, meanwhile, are slightly different.
My grandad always had a packet of Werther’s Originals to hand. A practical solution, in case his diabetes made him feel faint while he was out and about. The packet slowly made the transition from his coat pocket to the shelf three paces away from the armchair he became reluctant to leave. But, as long as he knew they were close by he would always offer me one.
“For a moment, in the middle of the Tesco confectionary aisle, I remember what he sounded like when he asked if I wanted a sweet.”
Now, when I see the golden packet on a supermarket shelf, I recall his voice. And for a moment, in the middle of the Tesco confectionary aisle, I remember what he sounded like when he asked if I wanted a sweet. The sound of paper tearing. The crinkle of the clear plastic wrapper. The faint scent of his attar as I walked closer. It seems like an insignificant memory to treasure, but it’s not often that I can remember his voice.
Back when he was strong enough to amble down the road of the local Asian shops and bring the shopping home, he would occasionally make a detour and drop in on us. He’d delve into a pocket and, to our delight, bring out two Lion chocolate bars. At the time, the sugar rush was the sole thing on my mind. But when I reminisce, I imagine the moment he picked up the bars in the shop. Maybe he was waiting for his vegetables to be weighed, when his eyes fell on the shiny auburn packaging. And he thought of his grandchildren, of the smiles that the chocolates would elicit.
“For children of the diaspora and their grandparents, there’s a particular significance in the memories created around the food we share.”
Every time I find a Lion bar now, I can see him at our door as vividly as if he had knocked just last week, rather than 13 years ago. I wish I had recognised the significance that his little act of kindness would come to hold, before it became too late to thank him.
For children of the diaspora and their grandparents, there’s a particular significance in the memories created around the food we share. My Bengali was weak and his English broken, but I didn’t have to fully understand what my grandad said to comprehend the quiet love conveyed in those moments. Our conversations usually involved a third-party, a family member to clarify when our words got lost in the air between us. But while the food that my grandad offered me wasn’t particularly hooked to our cultural roots (there’s nothing innately Bangladeshi about Rich Tea biscuits, after all), it was a way that we could connect that didn’t require any translation.
I don’t know when, or even if, I’ll process the fact that my granddad’s absence isn’t temporary. When you lose a loved one, tangible memories can become hard to keep a grasp of. You find yourself trying desperately to find some kind of anchor that won’t dissipate as time goes on.
The anchors I’ve found of my grandad may seem somewhat unexceptional on the surface. However, I’m grateful that I have these moments of him sharing food to keep me tethered to his memory – even if it does make me tear up at the sight of a packet of Rich Tea biscuits.
Sadia is a 22-year-old culture and lifestyle writer who loves a good sentimental personal piece. She is currently a staff writer for The Know. @sadianowshin
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