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There’s a notable oak tree in the corner of the top field.  


It’s the field my great, great grandad Thaddius bought; well before penicillin or penalties or PCR tests.


By my Dad’s reckoning the tree was about 150 years old when I was born.  The family legend is that Duncan Hebwidge planted the tree from an acorn that fell on his head after he’d gone swimming in the Parrett as a young boy.  


The tree was nicknamed The Parrett Oak, or Duncan’s Big Acorn, and it was the central pillar for family parties.  


The sort of parties where parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins, blacksheep and family favourites would gather for high days and holidays.  


At our family parties, everyone would contribute to a full fayre: The Classic Spread we called it.  My memories of these parties involved Mum hanging bunting and strings of outdoor electric lights to The Parrett Oak, all the way down to the bottom gate.  Decorations before my time existed too, also a kaleidoscope, apparently.


When we were kids, cousins would drink too sweet apple juice pressed on the farm, jealously eyeing up warm cider brewed round the corner.  My older brothers would casually snatch half finished glasses, calmly gulping the golden nectar, their tongues dodging the bits.  They pretended it tasted nice, but their eyes told the truth.  


I’d invariably scrape a scab and someone, anyone, everyone, would climb to the top branch of Duncan’s Big Acorn, hanging on the backs of their knees, arms dangling free, others standing waiting to break their fall, in mid conversation with relatives they’d not seen for a while.  No-one shouted or told us to stop.  It was all part of the tapestry.


We all had our significant birthdays there.  The rumour was that Dad’s Great Grandad was actually born under Duncan’s Oak, though no-one could be sure.


My 15th birthday was Granny’s 75th, and her sister Jean - Aunty Jean - actually my Great Aunt but we called her Aunty Jean - it was Jean’s 80th.  Five years apart the sisters were pretty much indistinguishable from each other; always lived close by, shared so much of their life including smiles and secrets and birthdays.  I was honoured to share their birthday.  When I was a kid it was always the highpoint of the year.  It gave me a special higher standing among the kids in the family.  Birthday Day I called it.  No idea what the others called it.  I didn’t care.


I was very proud on my 15th because Jean and Gran were 80 and 75, and they were widows and I was there for them.   That morning I held their hands and we smiled.


We made our way to the party.  There was nothing hugely different to this one compared to previous ones, which made it perfect.  Lots of sandwiches, made fresh from Billy Baker’s Bread.  Those days you’d ride your bike round the villages to get your supplies, filling up your wicker basket with bread from Billy’s in Petherton, veg from Hambury, fruit from Ilpot, cheese from Browton and meat from Landerville Pinwash - all a couple of miles from each other in a great non-linear circle.  Strawberries always came from us, our farm, our strawberries.  We were on other people’s route.  Apple juice and cider came from everywhere.  It flowed from the veins of the countryside around us.


So, the birthday sandwiches.  Cheese.  Ham.  Beef.  Tomato.  Jean and Gran loved ham sandwiches - something else they had in common.  Thick with mustard.  Jean had this special hat and a way of preparing her lipstick ready to bite the sandwich I never saw at weddings or for Sunday Church.  Only ever for eating ham sandwiches.  God had nothing on a ham sandwich.


It helped that Jean knew where the bread came from: Billy the Baker.  And the Pinwash Butcher for the ham.  And the dairy farmer who made the butter.  When she ate the sandwich she was honouring them.


We sat under Duncan’s Acorn and devoured the picnic.  Scrumpy for the adults, more too sweet apple juice for the kids.  Mum brought in her signature pudding.  This wasn’t reserved for special occasions.  It was a regular pudding that was a necessary staple for all family mealtimes, regardless of the day, the time of day, or who was or wasn’t there.  


The pavlova.  


The eggs were our eggs; the cream mum admitted to having bought from Coop.  Scandal?  Not quite the scandal.  The strawberries, our strawberries made up for that. So big and plump.  Plump, even when hulled, drawn and quartered.  Shining royal red.  Yellow seeds winking from every angle.  Mum’s pavlova was always the centrepiece, even if it followed beans on toast.  


This particular pavlova was like a crown, a jubilee of its own, a knighthood and a pair of damehoods for me, Gran and Jean.  We cut it up, shared it round, ate it silently, almost in prayer.  Mum and Dad sat with backs against each other, each other’s support as usual.  The sun shone through the leaves, kissing their cheeks.  


Jean finished her pavlova, dabbed the corners of her mouth with her napkin, and slowly moved towards Dad.


As she walked I remember being struck by her age.  She looked so old.  Fresh memories flooded back.  Eating mashed swede and parsnips covered in butter, thick sausages hiding underneath, at Easter.  The smell of Germolene.  Games of football in the back garden that she’d go Hell for leather in, thundering tackles against burly Uncles, throwing herself at full stretch to keep out my weak penalty when she was in goal.  It felt like just yesterday.  Suddenly, now she was so old.


Gran was five years older than Jean.


Gran’s Dad inherited our farm from his Dad.  His from his.  His from his.  My Dad from his Dad.  Me from mine, maybe.  Always the way.  From one to another.  Forever.  Down, in the family.  Along the line.  Same for Billy the Bread, for the Pinwash butcher.  Same for everyone.  In our case, strawberries to strawberries.  Always strawberries.  


Jean moved over towards Dad, under the Oak.  She was crying.  Gran didn’t see.  Not at first, I don’t think.  


Jean spoke to Dad.  He looked confused.  He started crying.  He looked at Gran.  He didn’t move towards her.  He wanted to; I could tell.  He wanted to go to Gran but he was too angry.  He was holding a second slice of pavlova.  He looked at it.  He picked the lone strawberry off it and threw it to the ground.  Dropped the pavlova.  Crushed the cracked meringue.


A kerfuffle.




Loud furious screams.

Spit furious.


Ears burn red furious.


Jean, Gran, Gran, Jean, Dad, Gran, Dad Jean. 


Mum tried to calm it.


Dad didn’t.


I turned to my cousins.  We laughed.  It’s all we could do.  Confused, thought about ham sandwiches and gut rot cider.  We stole cigarettes and we hid.


No-one explained.


What happened under the Oak?  


No-one explained.


The strawberries stopped.


They got packed up.


They got moved on.


The farm got sold.


We moved.


We moved to the town.


Dad got a different job.


We never had pavlova again.  Not with Dad.


When he was out, Mum would whip one out.  Secret pavlova.  Supermarket strawberries.


They never tasted the same.


Then I found out.


I found out what happened.


Dad had inherited the farm from his Dad, my Grandad.


I always knew that.


Everyone knew that.


But it turns out, Grandad wasn’t Grandad.


Gran wasn’t Gran.


Jean wasn’t Aunty Jean.


It was the other way round.


But no-one told Dad.


Not until he was eating pavlova.




Ruined for him.


I still love strawberries.


And I love the oak tree.


The farm got sold - someone else owns it now - but they still grow strawberries and the tree is still there.  Sometimes I think about it.  Sometimes I think about going to see it.  Hanging upside down on the backs of my knees again.


Sometimes, what we remember is happier than what is true.


Should we remember the taste of the food?  Or where it came from?


Maybe it doesn’t matter.


Or maybe, for some, it does.

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