Halligan on Food, Family and Melancholy
It is Christmas in Newcastle and the family home is full of family. We moved the big dining table into the garden, under the shade of the pohutukawas that I had given my parents for Christmas the year I was eighteen; a tree their size is a rare thing in this wind-scoured seaside suburb. I went to a nursery and asked what would grow. I’d given up on roses, but not trees. Now, nearly thirty years later, they were big and shady. The weather was superb, sunny and dry but not too hot. There was always a sea breeze gently blowing the scents of salt to mix with the smell of frangipani and the soft soothing roar of the waves. I remember sitting under the trees with the delicate wind caressing my face.
So we put the table in the garden, knowing we wouldn’t have done this had my parents been alive, and ate all our meals there, sitting late into the evening talking over glasses of wine. It was a melancholy time but greatly pleasurable in the way that melancholy can be. We knew it was the last time that we would live in our childhood house, and we had time to pay attention to this. We were sad that our mother had died, but she was old, and ready, in fact we were sure she had allowed herself to die. She had a number of times survived the slight illness that had killed her, but this time she embraced it, let herself be seduced into the death she desired, and we were part of the everlasting cycle of life, where children bury their parents and go on to make their own lives, trusting their children will bury them, and not the other way round.
Christmas lunch was a huge pile of prawns, which we’d got up early and gone to the fish market to buy, small sweet prawns, the best ones, locally caught, with black bread and butter and pepper and lemon, and good white wine, all of us sitting there peeling our own, the children old enough to manage, eating as much as we wanted. So luxurious.
Marion Halligan, The Taste of Memory, Crows Next: Allen & Unwin, 2004, 20-21.