In perhaps the only winter in between being a child and a woman, I have a memory. I’m with my dad. My dad’s this big 6ft 2 man, he’s got a gruffness, an element of intimidation about him. He won’t mind me saying that. We’re in a coffee shop, it’s the sort of place I’d like to practice being a grown-up in. I’d like to order a tea or a coffee, even though I don’t like coffee. My dad looks at me with apprehensive eyes, soft somehow. When he speaks it’s as if he is embarrassed, or shy, or something I can’t put into words. He asks me if I want a hot chocolate.
In that look, I’m sure he sees me as his little girl. Innocently devouring a hot chocolate with cream squirted from the can on top, bought on holidays, in cafes, at Christmas. A little girl bowled over by that small cup of milky, warm deliciousness, barely able to think about if it’s ‘grown-up’. But this is that winter, and I ask for that grown-up tea instead. Grown-up tea is not a treat to be ecstatically devoured. My dad asks me if I’m sure. I say yes. He gets it for me. We both know I am gone, the little girl is not coming back.
But it’s only now that I notice that moment. Or perhaps I imagine it. Perhaps I imagine how strange it must feel for a father when his daughter grows up. To see uncontained innocence walled off in favor of make-up, night clubs, and boys. I get weepy.
Then I remember that I’m still here making hot chocolate. It hasn’t all died. I’m still here, tending this tiny ritual of making a warm cup of cocoa and milk as soon as the weather gets bitter, or my feelings turn as damp as November, and the light’s started disappearing before dinner. I think to myself that I don’t know anyone who doesn’t delight in hot chocolate. Not one. They all smile at the thought of it like it’s still a special treat. The child that’s never grown up suddenly dances in their eyes.
Then I wonder if hot chocolate is in itself a tradition, carried out by each of us when the coldness approaches. A tradition unassigned to any date but used to chase away the parts of life in winter that get too grown-up, too serious, too dark. A miniature preserving of that giddy, happy time felt as a child when collecting fallen leaves, or conkers, or holding out a small tongue to catch snowflakes on, or gripping a sparkler on bonfire night with quiet thrill. A tradition administered in the humblest of cups from generation to generation, it makes sure that no one quite grows up.
200ml milk or alt.
1 tsp cocoa mixed w/ 1 tsp honey and a drop of hot water
pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon
Heat the milk on the stove.
Add everything else.