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Addie And The Goldfish

It has been more than 40 years, so the story may be more apochryphal than truthful, but certainly qualifies as Irregular.

Aleida Wilhelmina Diderica Jager was a product of the war. Born in the early 20’s in Arnhem, she was a teenager when Hitler marched into Holland and lived through the years of skimpy vegetables and tulip bulbs when the vegetables ran out. She was a wiz at stretching a meal to accomodate an ‘extra chair’ at the dinner table and greatly responsible for the number of diabetics in my neighbourhood. Cookies and humour were always at the ready and it seemed the house rule that sugar was stirred into my tea with a tablespoon!

See, Addie, as we knew her, loved two things more than anything – cooking and laughing, and at both she was a professional.

A round woman with florrid cheeks, Addie would run-waddle across the road, never walk, to tell my mother the latest ‘news’ from around the neighbourhood. Exploding with laughter over coffee Addie would suddenly stop and in her matter of fact voice say, “I have to go home! I just peed my pants!”. Then exploding in mirth again she would run back home to change her pants.

I suppose if Martin or George or Ricky or Harold or even Marianne, her children, read this they might be offended at my description of their dearly departed mother. Or maybe not. I recently read her obituary in the Campbell River Mirror and the words took me back a long way into her world of Gouda cheese and chocolate sprinkles.

“She kept busy raising her children and taking care of her husband and home, but she always found time to care for the needs of others. Her ability to show hospitality extended to many (human or animal) who enjoyed her home cooking, coffee and her love (her cookies were always the best). Her heart was so big that there was always room for one more, especially when it came to cats and dogs. What was one more anyways? She also had time to make beautiful things with her hands whether it be knitted, crocheted, or needlework. She enjoyed spending time outdoors, working in her garden, camping, and just enjoying the stormy days at the beach. She loved going swimming at the lakes, rivers, and beaches. Her favourite camping place was in Osoyoos, BC – she loved the water there. Those who knew her well, appreciated her quick wit and sense of humour. She will be missed dearly.”

Addie lived life at full speed, laughed whenever she could (usually at herself) and loved aggressively, never wasting an opportunity for a hug, even if it meant running the full length of the grocery store to squeeze my mother after 20 years!

I love to cook, from Chinese to Italian to Barbecue to everything in between. Each dish I cook has a story, a personal memory or time and place that I tend to keep to myself. From time to time I will pass on a snippet to ‘The Kitchen Nazi’s Assistant’, but usually I will simply smile a half smile to myself as I am stirring a pot, deep in a silent conversation from long ago. And occasionally I will hear, way off, Addie’s jiggly laughter – especially when I am taking porridge out of the microwave.

See, a big part of Addie taking care of her family was making sure they started the day off with a ‘hearty’ breakfast.

Long before it was light she would be bustling around the kitchen, opening jars and stirring pots, singing to herself and generally enjoying the quiet time before the sleepy-eyed troops tottered out of their bedrooms.

Being an organized sort, Addie liked to have two or three things happening at the same time – tea boiling, porridge simmering while she set the table or laid out clothes.

On this day Addie decided to clean the fish bowl.

Taking the bowl gently off the table in the living room she carefully carried it into the kitchen, constantly peeking down to make sure Mr. Goldfish was not being sloshed out of his home.

Now in her kitchen Addie had a large oil stove, or should I say a LARGE oil stove, that dominated her cooking area. Ever so careful she moved a pile of letters, three mittens and an open tin of cat food away from the counter and placed the fish bowl down.

Just then Martin called from the bedroom.

Quickly Addie turned and headed down the hallway, not realizing that the goldfish bowl was in fact sitting on the edge of the warmer pan on the oil stove.

A few minutes later she returned, completely forgetting the goldfish as she began to stir the bubbling porridge.

But Mr. Goldfish certainly took notice!

What was only a few minutes ago a dream of chasing lady goldfishes in the North Atlantic was fast becoming being chased by swordfish in the Caribbean! With each passing second the temperature was rising in his home – something like an August day in southwestern Ontario!

Faster and faster he raced around his bowl, looking for a cool spot to rest his fins. But no luck!

Finally in desperation he leapt as high as he could, clearing the near boiling water!

Addie continued to stir the porridge, reading a letter from her sister as she worked.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw a bright orange and gold flash as Mr. Goldfish leapt over her arm.

“How odd!” she thought to herself.

Looking down she spied the now recently deceased Mr. Goldfish lying full out in the middle of the pot of porridge! Without a second thought she scooped the fish out of the pot and carried it to the pantry where she deposited it with the potato peelings.

Addie had just enough time to stir the porridge one more time before several blonde heads appeared around the corner and sat down to eat.

Later that day she went to the pet store and bought a new Mr. Goldfish, who last I heard was still swimming happily in his bowl in the living room.

Addie, of course, had to regale my Mother with this story the next time coffee came out on our kitchen table. With arms flapping like Mr. Goldfishe’s flippers she recounted the children wolfing down porridge while she stood looking out the window, holding her sides.

And then she went home to change her pants.

Categories: Essays Writing

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