Ritual for Visiting a Dying Father
Wake early – around 5am, and I’ll go out and do a few things before I spend the day with you, Dad. Your apartment is close to where I’m staying, but you’ll sleep long, thanks to the pain killers you now take daily.
I eat breakfast – redcurrants and yoghurt, and grab my walking shoes on the way out. The little cloakroom area by the door seems so incongruous in the summer, but speaks of the time when the snow piles high and the sun is barely a smear in the dark silent day.
I slip into the village – the pale wavering light reveals silent streets and, as I reach the forest, the flicker of a deer or hare grabbing a last mouthful of crops before the world awakens. I walk and reconnect with my world. How difficult it is to have two homes, on opposite sides of the world, and yet how lucky I am that I can feel comfortable in the desert of Australia or the pine forests that mark the start of the Eastern Alps.
You lived here 20 years Dad. I know that no matter where I tread in these forests, you were here once – the trees a little lower, the roads unpaved, the absence of the neon lit petrol stations and supermarkets on the backroads connecting villages. I know that I walk in your childhood haunts ,and if I turn my head a fraction of a fraction of a millimetre, I can sense your presence.
I cut back through the funny little pine forest that leads past the Red Bull factory and down the main street. The old concrete fence posts and rusted wire to protect the land – what’s in there? I’ve never bothered to find out.
On the way home after a few hours I go to the supermarket for the ingredients to make Liptauer, the cheese spread that you showed me how to make. I get some bread too. In Austria you can buy as much or as little bread as you want. They sell it by the slice. I get a third of a loaf of rye, and on the way to the cashier spot some Chanterelles. I buy them, because this is the food of our happier, younger years.
Walk to your home around 8am – and you are sleeping, but my sister lets me in. Mum isn’t here yet. I start making Liptauer for you when you wake up.
Our Liptauer Recipe
- 250g cottage cheese
- 100g softened butter
- 1/4 yellow onion, finely grated
- 1/4 teaspoon Tarragon mustard
- 1 tsp caraway seeds, toasted & ground
- 1 tbsp lemon juice and a little rind
- 1 tbsp sweet paprika
- 1 tbsp capers, pounded
- Chives finely chopped, to serve
- Rye bread
Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl ,and combine until well mixed. Serve by spreading a nice thick layer on slices of rye bread and sprinkling a layer of the chives on top. Or use as a dip/spread.
Was my life a recipe? A formula maybe? I don’t think that that is too far from the truth. When we are confronted by times of change and upheaval, it is natural to find security in the familiar, the predictable. It helped to know that the rivers flowed, the pines sighed and the crunch of my footsteps sent pheasants, deer and hares scurrying.
We can know the measure of ourselves and others best when things are at their worst. Its easy to be a well adjusted and calm person when things are going well. The real person comes out when things go wrong, when times are tough. That’s who we really are, and we need to find the tools, the rituals and the recipes to ensure that that person is still making the right decisions and actions.