My mother loves eucalyptus oil. Like she loves it with every fiber of her being! And she, just like a lot of other moms, believes it is the answer to a multitude of illnesses/symptoms. So when we were younger somehow I believed eucalyptus oil was that panacea that could cure everything because momma had a different method of application depending on what symptoms you presented. So cold/stuffy nose? Put some behind your ears, on your neck, pulse points basically. More intense cold? Use some for a steam bath. Period pain? Put some on your belly and massage it in. Tooth ache? Put some in a hanky and dab…okay I’m going to stop messing with you… momma I’m sorry, I love you! Ha ha ha!! I always had a good time teasing her about eucalyptus oil, still do! God bless you Momma!
For my late aunt, fried rice was the answer. Like, it was the ‘weapon’ of choice when the situation was mild, serious or grave/super, and the ‘application’ depended on that too. Ha ha! So, let’s say I had a bad day at work and I moaned about it a bit, we would buy fried rice and chicken wings from Southern Fried Chicken. When I got my heart broken in the middle of 2010, she bought me fried rice from Chopstix, an upscale Chinese restaurant. When I got my job at the BBC though, we cooked the rice in the house!
The reason why buying fried rice was a smaller ‘medicine dose’ than cooking was the amount of effort that the latter came with! Proper labour of love. Like cooking fried rice in the house was an activity that EVERYONE partook in, from the nanny to the security man. Lol! I can still picture her sitting on the stool in the kitchen, mixing the rice. Wait, let’s even back up a bit.
First there’d be the conversation preceding the “make we cook fried rice” proclamation. Boom! Then it would be nanny and driver to buy chicken, vegetables and whatever condiments we didn’t have (including a big tub of Blue Band butter), and then every soul in the house getting involved with chopping or peeling something. I remember that the guys were excluded, but not every time.
I remember her micromanaging the process every single time, like each time was our first. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. If she didn’t ask, we would pile into the living room one after the other to ask questions, silly or relevant. Because aunty was the king and queen of the business of cooking fried rice!!
I remember us laying out all the blanched, steamed, chopped, boiled, plucked ingredients out in separate bowls strewn across the kitchen floor, surrounding the big pot (very big because everyone was welcome to aunty’s pot) with her stool there in the middle too. I remember her nonstop conversation as she mixed in all the ingredients, whether it was giving advice, singing, scolding whoever for whatever reason, or gisting us of a number of things, maybe even the last time we all cooked!
I remember she would insist the onions be blended because she knew I can’t stand seeing them, and I remember her asking me to taste. I remember always scooping rice onto a plate just to taste, her protesting that, “na only this pikin must chop half the food to taste am”, and the laughter that would always ensue.
I remember the laughter. Gosh I remember her laughter. With her gap teeth, mischievous twinkle in her eyes, and absolute love of God and man in her heart. It was loud, it was rich, it was welcoming. Aunty invited everyone to laugh with her laughter, regardless of your state of mind. If she was laughing, even if it was at you, you would laugh too. I promise.
I remember sitting down to eat our finished work of art with her white tray, big purple cup of Fanta and ice. Aunty loved life abeg! And we would pair the meal nicely with a Yoruba film, because we could never eat fried rice quietly. Nah, it wouldn’t go down well that way, there had to be extra activity.
Meal over, your problems were either over, or in the midst of the preparation or cooking we would have discussed or agreed on the way out of the issue. And if we were celebrating, there would be a small, off handed prayer of thanksgiving for the joy, and a word (or two, or two million) of advice on how to manage it.
Meal over, it would be time to retire to her room or ours, to “fire sleep.” I remember her in any of her wrappers, room temperature mirroring the Arctic, and her giving any of us her phones so she wouldn’t be disturbed. Sometimes we would cook fried rice on a Sunday after church, for Easter, Christmas, any of the Muslim celebrations in a nod to her Northern upbringing, birthdays, or just because she felt like the whole house needed something to do. Lol. What a woman.
I would give anything to cook fried rice with you again aunty. Maybe because it’s Christmas, maybe because there’s so much to talk about, maybe because I miss you ordering us about, maybe because I want to hear you laugh one last time.
Sleep well aunty. I love you forever.