Friday, January 4, 2019

Bottling it up


The road to vermouth does not always involve sorrow.

I had not stayed with my father the night he died. He was alone. I had not known he would be, but the night before, when Vince and I left the hospital, my body collapsed in grief. It knew, if I wasn't sure, that I would not see him alive, again. I never cried in the room with him - I never wanted him to see that sorrow, or to feel anyone else's stress. And so at unexpected times in those five days I would have to pull the car over, or risk accident.

When the call came to the house in the 4.30am dark,  I went to sit with him for the last time. The small dark nursing sister was there, and I was glad she had been on duty. Looking up into my eyes, she held my arm firmly and told me she was sorry. On a previous night, she had held my shoulder with that same firmness as I sat beside him, reading him childhood stories, from books whose pages were falling apart. The ward staff were kind. The previous day I was brought a tray of coffee, and asked if I would prefer hot or cold milk. And there was a cookie. I don't like cookies, but I ate that one, very carefully.

Immediately afterwards, that final morning, the shocking bureaucracy and decision making of death evicted any possibility of mourning. But in the blank days after my father's cremation, and when my husband's warmth had returned to New York, I began to gather wild flowers and fynbos herbs from the mountain, the surrounding green spaces, and my mother's garden. In small jars each plant began infusing in good vodka. Elderflowers and wild plums began to ferment.

On the last day of 2018 I blended and bottled the vermouth. That year is over. And from its end there is a local alchemy that tells the story of this Cape Town summer.

Vermouth captures time and place like nothing else I know. When I open it in Brooklyn, sometime in a new year whose days remain to be filled, I know I will cry.









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(Yes, there is a vermouth recipe)

24 comments:

  1. Net soos jy het ek in Bloem grootgeword, 'n swak verhouding met my pa gehad en baie jare gestoei met sy persoonlikheid. Hy is Junie 2017 na 'n lang siekbed dood.Sy laaste ses weke was ek aan en af langs sy bed soos ek kon en nooit kon ek dink dat sy dood my so vreeslik verskriklik sou raak nie. Die ses weke was 'n geskenk. Ons het nie baie oor ons twee gepraat nie maar so baie dinge gesels. Vrede gemaak sonder woorde. Maar ek en my sussie sukkel nou nog, 16 maande later. Soveel sterkte vir jou die jaar, mag jy gou vrede kry. Elmie.

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    1. Ek is baie jammer, Elmie, en bly julle het vrede gemaak. Ek is eintlik baie gelukkig (as in lucky) dat ek en my pa 'n goeie verhouding gehad het, na 'n moeilike begin. Hy was 'n goeie vriend. Ek het geweet ek gaan hom verloor en het vrede daarmee gemaak en baie daaroor gedink; en met sy dementia, en die pad wat voorgelĂȘ het, was dood ook 'n verlossing.

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  2. Lovely photos. I'll cry with you when you open the bottle.

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  3. Sometimes the kindness of strangers and a good drink are what keeps us going on difficult days. Your vermouth will also bring good memories and a chance to drink a toast to 80+ years of a life well-lived.

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  4. I'm so sorry, Marie, losing my dad in June was one of the most terrible periods of my life. Hugs to you and your mom. xoxo

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  5. This is so beautiful Marie. I think you’ve moved from your magical foraging to a fine weaving of recipes for life. Thank you for sharing this.

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  6. The night nurse when my father passed was disdainful and insulting. I'm glad you had -- and have -- better care.

    with you,
    Melanie

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    1. How horrible, Melanie - I am sorry.xxx

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    2. People can be disappointing. I've a recent run of meeting a lot of very lovely folks and I am grateful.

      go well,
      Melanie, et al.

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  7. You did your best, forgive yourself and self-perceived flaws in your farewell.

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    1. Thank you anonymous - I am not angry at myself. My issue is anger at others (I'm working on it.)But I also learned very good things about people. My niece and Selina's son Thabang pulled some very long hours beside my dad's bed when I was not there. It was a massive comfort to me and taught me a lot about who they are.

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  8. I am sorry for your loss, Marie. Grief is a strange companion, I hope you are surrounded by tender love and care as it has its way with you.

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  9. I was not with my father when he died and I’ve always regretted it. I was nearly certain he was dying, but I was to frightened to watch. He kept me with him when my mother died in 1958 even though it was a struggle. A single Dad with a 4 year old girl in the 50s had a no support system. His death was more than I thought I could bear. Yet here we are and we will carry the remnant of our grief and the lessons our fathers taught us for the rest of our lives. That is their legacy to us.

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  10. I think this is the most beautifully written post of yours I've ever read, Marie. You are missed on FB but we are enjoying your book so much and of course your blog posts are even more precious since I don't hear from you as often. Evidently, I need to learn to make vermouth. Sending you love and forgiveness and energy and flexibility and all of those amazing tools we all need close to hand during times like these. Be well. xo

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  11. There are five stages of grieving; denial anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance. In no particular order. Yours was not an easy relationship and I wish there was more compassion for family at the end. P.S. don't know why it won't post

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    1. Thank you, Antares (comments on posts older than 4 day are moderated for spam - so there is a bit of a delay). The grief process rule book doesn't really work in every situation :-) Luckily I had a very straightforward relationship with my dad, as we enjoyed each other very much (at least this century!), and so I can miss him in an uncomplicated way. I really began to lose him years ago, to dementia. And that was a very hard thing. I am at peace with his death. Surrounding circumstances are more complicated and troubling, but those I cannot go into.

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  12. Sending comfort, still.
    I grew up next door to my paternal grandmother and I have a box of her handkerchiefs. She died in 1992, yet I can still smell her scent when I open that box. I get tears in my eyes and I grin at the very same time. Grief is so very complicated. xo

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