I burnt my mouth on a roast potato (but the memory lingers longer)…

No, that's not me. What? You seriously think I got someone to photograph my burning mouth? I couldn't talk. Only smile and nod. (Pic from 4tnz.com)

Let’s check. Tongue up to investigate. Strangely smooth skin above my teeth. Yup, still tender.

I burnt my mouth on a roast potato after my Granny’s funeral. It was the first thing I tried to eat after we all left the graveyard in the hills above Belfast.

I wasn’t expecting the food at the reception to be served to so many people so efficiently, or for it to be so hot. As the skin inside my mouth melted, I felt it would be rude to interrupt the aunt next to me to ask for water. At the time I also thought it best not to startle my mother by spitting out the incendiary spud, nor to rise above the reverent low hum of conversation by cursing and trying to fan cool air into my mouth.

There was pain. I vainly hoped it would be momentary.

Top tip coming up. If you also decide to torch your palate, take care with brushing your teeth. As a child I belonged to the vigorous school of tooth brushing. I regularly snapped brushes in my mouth, such was my zeal for dental hygiene. Bad idea generally speaking – it damages your gums. Also a bad idea with such tender flambeed skin in close proximity. Put it like this – if you scalded your arm, you wouldn’t follow up by scrubbing the wound with a wire brush.

The consequence of this second episode of foolishness was that I was no longer able to grin and bear it.

There’s something about a broad smile with blood running between the teeth that people find less than endearing. Apparently it’s a bit creepy.

If I am ever published When I’m an internationally famous writer and an interviewer asks me: “If you could live your life over, is there anything you would change?” – well, I’d interrupt my aunt for a start. And I might even startle my mother.

The point is… (“There’s a point to this? I thought it was merely being disrespectful for its own sake.”) The point is, every time I eat toast, drink tea or indeed let anything touch that burnt part of my mouth, even my tongue – I’m reminded of my Granny.

I passed by her flat and thought, have I been in there for the last time?

Walking through a riverside town I saw postcards on sale, and realised that I’ll never send her another card or letter. In fact, she never got to read the last one. It arrived too late. Another way of putting it is that I no longer have her help in organising and recording my thoughts.

But any time I see a postcard for sale, I’ll think of her.

Any time I see an image of Chairman Mao, she’ll be the one who comes to mind. No, she wasn’t a communist. Nor even Chinese. Chairman Mao was the famous person she once drew out of the hat during a game of charades. Due to her elderly legs, her wordless acting efforts to demonstrate sitting on an imaginary chair were so hilarious that it became a family tradition to ensure that she drew Chairman Mao on every occasion, and to delay guessing correctly for as long as possible. Because a correct guess would end the performance. (We treated her more kindly the rest of the time. Honest.)

Now Chairman Mao is gone. Only Quasimodo is left. (Sorry, that’s a bit of an in-joke.)

Any time the TV news shows a doctor from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh I’ll remember the (I think, but I was very young) Indian medical student who lodged at her house. I think he was the first Asian person I knew even slightly, and there weren’t many in Belfast in those days. Later on, he and his girlfriend/fiancee/wife returned to visit my Granny’s house. It was one of those nights when things were hot and heavy in the city, not least in her own neighbourhood. She was on the doorstep listening, watching the military helicopters, looking for telltale skyglow, reluctant to let the visiting couple leave until she could work out their safest route home. They laughed affectionately and reassured her that of all the people on the streets that night, they’d be the safest. Brown-skinned, Indian looking, they’d most likely be waved through any roadblock, official or otherwise – dismissed as outsiders, neutrals in the conflict.

Any time I see a duck, I’ll remember how she reacted on encountering anything remarkable. Her back would straighten, eyes widen. “Sufferin’ ducks!” she’d say.

Her stories historical or familial would be liberally peppered with the phrase, God Rest Him (or Her), but occasionally she’d be jolted by the realisation that, “God forgive me, he isn’t dead yet.”

Now she is. But as long as there are postcards, pictures of Chairman Mao, Indian doctors and ducks, she’ll be on my mind long after I stop whinging about my burnt beal bocht.

Thanks to all for your lovely comments after my previous post. I heard a song on Radio Ulster last week that might be of interest to anyone in a similar situation. It’s not my usual thing, but it struck me when I heard it. It’s called Ballymena Agnes. A Northern Ireland born, New South Wales based singer called Phil Davidson wrote it for his grandmother. It touches on Alzheimer’s disease or dementia – not a factor with my Granny – but more universally, it’s about loss. You might like it. (More of his songs and videos here.)



Filed under family history, life, Music

4 responses to “I burnt my mouth on a roast potato (but the memory lingers longer)…

  1. The best legacy is having a grandchild love you so.

    Off or on the topic, Roast Potatoes, the kind that sit around the roast beef and gargle up the juices and getting all golden brown and crusty are my favorite food in the universe; when i was terrifically young and thin, once i had 8 of them with butter and salt; it’s a wonder i lived; oh those days over;

    I hope you become a famous international writer!

  2. Spare me Quasimodo! I remember that speak-without-digression-or-repetition-for-a-minute game with Granny describing a time when she acccidentally had her hair dyed purple, and she went on for about 5 minutes!!

  3. “incendiary spud”. Spoken and endured like a true Irishman.

    (Now I have to express condolences)

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