Do you remember that day, Mrs Green, when you watched us playing in the sandpit after Sunday School?
“Yukky”, you said, “Not in your mouth.”
They were beautiful cakes, fresh out of the oven, topped with swirly icing and handfuls of sprinkles in every colour of the rainbow.
“Yummy”, I said, not having any other words to explain to you how they were the best cakes in the world.
“No, they’re not”, you laughed. “You will taste much nicer things when you are a big girl.”
But I was too young to understand your words.
I pondered them a few short years later as I tasted the sadness of saying goodbye to my three ducks who had outgrown their yellow fluff and their tiny hutch.
“We will take them to Granpop’s and swap them for dressed ducks”, they said. “They can live with all his other ducks.”
Later I tasted betrayal as my child’s mind understood where my pets had gone.
Or did you mean, Mrs Green, the taste of fear as the neighbourhood dogs snarled and barked and bit, or the taste of dread knowing they would be there again each afternoon on my way home.
Maybe you meant that acidic taste in my mouth that accompanied my racing heart and sweaty palms when I faced the congregation to recite the bible verses we had practised for weeks, or the burning heat of embarrassment at the laughter that my faltering efforts brought.
You tried to teach me much about the tastes of adulthood, but I fear I learned your lessons poorly.
I learned that spinach made me feel sick, and made no difference to my strength.
And that a clean plate every time left me bloated, and didn’t alter the nutritional status of even one child in India.
And that my hair remained determinedly straight, no matter how many bread crusts I consumed.
And that my night vision didn’t change, regardless of how many carrots I secreted from our fridge.
I have questioned so many of your sandpit teachings, Mrs Green.
I have learned that some things don’t work out for the best, and some things work out with tragedy and pain. And that if it is always God’s will, then I really don’t like his style much of the time. And that bad things do happen to good people, and that there is often no real reason for anything, unless you work hard to conjure one. And that love doesn’t conquer all, and that always doesn’t mean forever.
And I learned that big girls do cry. They just get better at hiding the tissues.
I didn’t know all these things when I sat in your sandpit, Mrs Green. I didn’t know that sand was dirty, and that crumbled leaves and bark could be poisonous. I had no concept that grit could wedge in my teeth or stick in my throat. I didn’t foresee that others could smile at my childish efforts and not see the beautiful cakes I had created. And by not knowing all these things, Mrs Green, they were the best cakes in the world.
25 April 2017