My mum is a very Italian woman, sharp as a tack at 89 years old and very much her stubborn self. But her body is giving up on her. After 65 years in the same house in Littlehampton -- the home in which I was born and grew up -- Gilda Perilli now spends her time in a residential hotel where she's among the youngest guests.
Oh God , the things I remember in those early days... Like music playing -- at home and at our restaurant. The ritual of food was always accompanied by the jukebox or radio.
The other day my mum complained to me that she was incredibly irritated at how many old people there were all around her, and how they were all so damned deaf they were always shouting. She asked the staff if they could play some music in the dining hall. No, they told her, it's hard enough for the residents to hear, and music would only make it worse.
Now, as I mentioned, Mum is very Italian. And old-folks-home food simply did not measure up to the spicy repasts she created at home. So I bought her some spices, including a tub of chili paste and a big container of garlic paste. Her room at the hotel contains these crucial items ... and bottle upon bottle of champagne and wine. Mum likes to live well.
Anyway, she sat down in the communal dining room one night, and was greeted by yet more complaints of how she smelled of garlic. This is nothing new -- when we were children, she'd send us to Mass with our coat hems soaked in garlic in order to irritate the priest, who represented to her all of Catholicism. She had an axe to grind -- she was a divorcee, and he wouldn't give my dad a Catholic burial. And Gilda was never one to shrink from a fight, even if she did have her own peculiar rules of engagement.
Sixty years later, in the dining hall of the home, one elderly guest sniffed in Mum?s general direction disapprovingly, and turned away to chat with the woman opposite. So Mum quietly dropped a dollop of garlic paste in the old biddy's teapot.
Upon turning back, the wrinkly poured herself a cup and had a sip.
"What's different with my tea?" she wondered aloud. "It tastes ... it tastes of a flower. What is that flower? You know the one ...
Mum replied, "Forget-me-not?"
Apparently revenge is best served tepid with a splash of milk.