Why Yorkshire puddings will make grandma live for ever

Anyone can become immortal, says Grandma Lorna. It’s just a question of how you look at it and what happens in the here and now, as she explains after being asked an awkward question by her granddaughter Alice…

An unexpected question from “Grandma, are you very old?” five-year-old Alice asked of Grandma Lorna as the pair walked back from the shop.

“Well…” said Grandma Lorna, unprepared for the question.

“I mean, will you die soon?”

“Well,” said Lorna, “hopefully not before we get back from the shop.”

Later, Lorna was relating the story to Grandad Ron and Alice’s parents Ollie and Lizzie.

Ollie ventured that death came to everyone in the end, to which his father replied: “It’s being such a cheerful soul that keeps you going, son.”

But Ollie wasn’t to be deflected. “It’s good for Alice to understand that life doesn’t go on for ever; that none of us is ‘permanent’. Then when she loses someone special, it won’t be so hard for her. Or Jack,” he added, nodding towards his son.

Don’t sneak to the end
Ron saw things differently. “Losing someone is always painful, but the hardest part is relatively short. Anticipation of loss just stretches the pain further than is necessary, and hangs like a shadow over everything else. And that’s not what Alice should be thinking too hard about as a five-year-old. Time enough for that later on. For now, she should be filled with wonder at a ladybird or a butterfly, and all the good things in the world around her.

“Think of it this way: When you’re reading a book, would you think about sneaking to the last couple of pages to read how it ends up? You’re looking into the future of the characters in the story, and knowing what happens to them dulls the rest of it. It’s the same story, but some of the magic has been lost. Alice asking about her Grandma dying is just the same.”

Answer honestly
Lorna wasn’t so sure. “There’s no point in avoiding questions asked by a child. The best thing to do is to answer them as honestly as possible, let the child absorb the information, and then move on,” she ventured. “It all has to be seen in context. And I’m not in my box yet, which is why Alice and I will be making Yorkshire puddings together this afternoon. What’s more, you’re all missing something really important to this death debate thingy.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Physically we’re all going to die. It’s a fact of life.” Ron smiled and nodded at her. She went on: “Memories don’t have to die. And I’m not talking about sentimentality necessarily, though that might not be a good thing. I’m talking about real things. This afternoon I shall be teaching Alice how to make Yorkshire puddings. You all know how good I am at them…” she paused, defying anyone to contradict her “…but how do you think I learned? It wasn’t by accident, and it wasn’t from a book; it was from my Grandma, so a bit of her lives on in me. And eventually it will live on in Alice too. In that way, none of us ever dies, because things that were important about us are passed on. Skills, thoughts, ideas, beliefs. In that way we’re all copies of previous generations. But you have to work at it. Time’s precious, and needs to be filled with worthwhile things; with lessons for life.” With that she stood up and went into the kitchen.

Ron was nodding, the corners of his mouth turned down. “Can’t argue with that,” he said. “There’s nothing quite like one of her Yorkshire puddings, but I shan’t be able to eat another without thinking of her immortality!”


Picture: Ruth Pearcey