It’s in the genes…or is it?

My high school teacher once remarked in front of everybody, “look, she’s sitting so quietly there, just enjoying the company”.   You had it spot on, she was talking about me not speaking up in groups.  What she didn’t realise was, I was good with one on one but wouldn’t utter a word when there were three people.  Not. A. Single. Word.  Got it from my father, I am pleased to say, being shy and reticent and all that.

Listen to this:

“She’s afraid I’m going to turn queer,”  I said to mother with a smile.  “Oh heavens,”  mother laughed.  “My daughter’s been queer for years.  Don’t let that bother you.  She got it from me.”

That was Joan Baez and her mother.   You can meet them in Daybreak*.

It is good to know that I am not the only one with that defence.  Since primary school, all the teachers ever wanted was for my daughter to join in with group discussions and feel free to express herself.   During every Parents’ Evening I had to keep smiling and telling them that ‘she got it from me’.   But true to my reserved nature, I stopped short of saying  ‘don’t let that bother you’.

Does it bother me that I pass on one of the weaknesses of my family?  I don’t know.   I can’t help it, can I?   It’s in the genes.

Or is it?    My daughter is musical.  She sings, plays the violin and piano, teaches herself guitar and is going to graduate with a degree in Music this summer.   Me?   I am tone deaf.   Seriously.  Music goes to your heart, not mine.   I am moved more by the lyrics than the melody.   I have been to  over a  hundred of  her concerts, the repertoire sounds familiar yet I cannot properly name even ONE piece of music with the title and the composer.   When I hear the tune, sometimes I can tell you when and with which orchestra she played, but search me, I wouldn’t know who by.   So, where did it come from?   Give me some credit  I would tell you, I did listen to Chopin during my pregnancy.   Otherwise it is from her father who can easily hum and name a tune, classical or contemporary.

Honing on.   Baking.   Never my forte.   But here is one I made earlier :

If Wishes Were Banana Cakes    (18/5/98)

Can’t bake
Won’t even try
Doesn’t like messy fingers
                       Neither do I

When Mama sees 3 ripe bananas
Wishing it were a cake
HAS  to do it
   Papa and I

Into the orange bowl
3 ripe bananas go
Crush them, or
Mash them until no longer
   recognisable;  Pour in
          6 oz self-raising flour        
Add    2 beaten eggs
          4 oz soft margarine
          4 oz castor sugar;  Quite sure
It wouldn’t make your tooth ache

Mix them well
Greased tin ready
          Gas mark 4
          Set timer to one hour twenty
Patiently, patiently
Mama’s wish
          makes me hungry


“My poetry was lousy you said………  We both know what memories can bring,  they bring diamonds and rust” **


Fourteen years ago I made a record of her primary school life in 25 poems.  Glad I did.  Not because the poems were of any good (they were not) but  what had been written could now serve as stepping stones down memory lane.   Who would have thought the little girl that didn’t like messy fingers is to be the aspiring baker?   She didn’t know that either.  For many years, banana cake was the cake when mama desired.  Until last summer, her ambition was to be a music journalist.   Then suddenly that same summer her passion for baking flourished.  She was overwhelmed, and had never been so sure of what she wanted out of her life before.

There follows a change of heart and soon,  a different career path.   One paves with artistic and creative sugarwork.   Culinary school  will follow university.  In the meantime, birthday cakes and desserts are made for friends and family (do I really want you to know I have since gained a few pounds?  Nah).  Without  any training. just looking up recipes the finished products she presented are both tasty and looking delicious.   And the French macarons!   Of course I am biased, I am the proud mother (even though she didn’t get it from me), but you can always confirm it with all the birthday girls.    Way to go, I’ll say.

It is a long way to go.   To settle into the real world and live a life for herself, by herself.   Whatever she has got from us, or not from us, we hope will have prepared her for the new beginning.  Scary as it may be, for us to let go, for her to move on, we are in it together.


*  Daybreak  Joan Baez  An Autobiography   Avon Books 1969

**  Diamonds and Rust   Joan Baez  1975


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