WRITTEN BY PATSY COLLINS
The cosiness of autumn brings Fiona a more mellow mood
We had our first frost last night. I could see it when I looked out first thing, although there were still no traces left on cars and in gardens by the time I was up and out. Even so I wore my thick, red winter coat.
If my sister Marie and I were on speaking terms she’d have teased, “Bet it was aired and ready before summer was even over, Fiona.”
I’d have denied it, or pretended to be amazed she knew about anything as grown-up as having suitable clothes for the time of year, but she wouldn’t have been far wrong. I bought it in a sale last spring, and have been looking forward to wearing it ever since. That’s partly because it’s exactly the deep, rich shade which suits my hair and complexion best. Mostly it’s because I like winter. Spring and summer have their good points, but I always find myself looking forward to shorter, colder days.
Seeing the street lights begin to flicker on as I walk home from work triggers a host of happy memories. Birthday treats to a pantomime or the ice rink. Snowball fights and sledging with Marie. Getting ready for Christmas. Making and breaking New Year’s resolutions. The log fire in the pub where I met my husband, Brandon, six years ago.
One of the best things about winter is the food and drink. Hot chocolate, mulled wine, spicy pumpkin soup, pasta bake, proper pies with a melt-in-the-mouth pastry top, jacket potatoes, roast chestnuts, treacle sponge… Perhaps even better than the food itself is that cold weather makes me feel justified in eating it. I don’t feel guilty for not having salad two days out of three.
When I get home I smell something deliciously savoury, bubbling away in the slow cooker. Brandon is on nights this week, which means he sorts something out for dinner before going to bed.
“Let’s have a proper pudding tonight,” I suggest.
“With custard?” he asks hopefully.
Honestly, I reckon if I poured custard on it that man would eat one of his own shoes. I prefer cream, but I like both and he was peeling the sprouts I love even though he’s not keen, so I give in. That’s how life should be, isn’t it? Seeing it from the other person’s point of view as well as your own.
We don’t have everything I’d need to make treacle sponge, so I search the freezer for something I can warm up. Just under the emergency loaf is a blackberry and apple pie. Seeing those words written on the label triggers my memory in the same way as the realisation that nights are drawing in. I recall that rich, unmistakeable flavour, and going with Gran to her neighbour’s garden to pick up windfall apples. Scrumping she called it, although really I knew she’d asked permission. I can almost smell that sweet, cider like scent of the bruised fruit.
I remember learning to make pastry at school, and blackberrying with Marie. We always came home with scratches, purple fingers and a sense of achievement.
Sometimes we’d mock argue about who’d picked the most and therefore deserved the biggest slice of pie. We did that while picking the berries for this very pie.
“My bowl is nearly full already,” I said with maximum smugness.
“Because you gave me the biggest bowl!”
“I did not.”
We did, and after only a few minutes it was her smugly telling me, “Mine’s full!”
Over the years we’ve bickered a little more seriously. I’m ten years older than Marie. I thought she got spoiled. She didn’t have the chores and responsibilities I did and all her accomplishments were treated as amazing, while mine were taken for granted. In turn she didn’t think it fair
I was allowed to stay up later, go into town with my friends, choose my own clothes.
I sometimes got fed up with having to babysit her if my parents went on a rare night out, and with her hanging round me even when I hadn’t been asked to look after her. She got annoyed when I told her what to do. We always made it up quickly.
Then, a few weeks ago we had a real row. The whole thing was stupid and at least partly my fault. I’d just found a lump and although I was scared I kept it to myself, because I didn’t want to worry her if it turned out to be nothing – which it did.
I didn’t really mean any of what I said and I really miss her.
What must it be like for Marie? I’ve been there her whole life and now I’m not. Now I’m beginning to see it from her point of view, I wonder if she could tell I was keeping something from her, or perhaps she was upset about something else.
Marie and I are different. Not like summer and winter, perhaps, but like blackberries and apples.
I put the pie on the kitchen table and call my sister. As it begins to defrost we thaw our frosty relationship.