Nostalgia’s Kitchen

I can still hear it now, the dissonant noise piercing my young ears. My grand father would always have to stand by the fire alarm, waving a towel while my grandmother was in the kitchen carefully crafting a delicious meal, soon to be devoured. She was always either mulling around the kitchen or sitting in her favorite arm chair watching Walker The Texas Ranger or All My Children, with her radio tuned to the Russian translation station. She was always known as the chef in our family. She could make absolutely anything from scratch. Her baking skills were unmatchable. From all the melt in your mouth chocolate gnash tortes to simple waffle cakes coated in the Russian version of Dulce de Leche you can’t buy at American supermarkets.

The weekends were my favorite time of the week, not because school was out, but because I slept over my grandmas house every Friday night. I was plump throughout my your childhood, which resulted in my mother enforcing a strict diet and controlling my schedule in general, this was my time to relax and just do anything I want. I don’t think I ever heard my grandma say no to me, not a single meal request of mine was ever denied and I could watch TV until my eyes burned.  I also got to play with the other kids in the building as much as I pleased. Until this day Mikey and I still talk about how many coloring books we went through together, the stupid little fights we’d get into about which color crayons to use seem so distant now. We wouldn’t notice the hours going by as we filled the pages with as many of the 64 Big Box of colors as we could. I was always more of the color in the lines and her hair should be brown if she’s a brunette or yellow if she’s a blond character type of artist, while Mikey would always use an inappropriate tone of pink for their lips.

I loved sitting in the kitchen, watching my grandmother as she was hard at work. We would sit in this tiny kitchen, only enough for one and a half people to fit (so perfect for just the two of us) and fold these dough squares together with a little bit of egg at the edges to ensure they wont fall apart. My favorite was when she made dumplings and filled them with potatoes. Somehow they came out perfect every single time. The potato had been fried with some onion prior to being used as stuffing, then that same sautéed onion would be used to put on top once the dish was fully cooked. Usually we’d add butter, mixing it in while it melted and then some sour cream for extra flavoring. Cooking with her was really the best part of my week.

Her kitchen was quite unique. On her fridge was a collection of magnets from various different places. Scattered on the white magnetic fridge were fruits, family pictures, scenery, and all of the important emergency phone numbers. The wallpaper behind the stove had started to peel a bit at the corners because of all the constant heat of the stove. Along the window sill above the heater were various baskets of fruits and vegetables, depending on the season. In a tiny space roughly the size of my dorm room, managed to also fit a square wooden table and two chairs. The table doubled as medicine storage and kitchen accessory with a plastic checkered table cover.  It always amazed me the amount of pills they had to take from these orange bottles everyday. Above the table always hung a Jewish calendar with all the birthdays and appointments. Then all of her cooking tools would either be scattered around the stove or counter tops, and some of the pots and pans would be stored in the stove. This was probably the only room in the house that hadn’t changed much over the years.

My grandmother also used to be a seamstress; she was constantly working to make a few extra dollars to help me by if I would ever need it. In a tiny second bedroom of her apartment, with just a velvet pull out couch and sewing table, she made me my first ballroom dress. I just loved the combination of the olive green and gold swirls. The swirls went all around the edge of the cutout of my back and then covered in Swarovski crystals. My sleeves were a thicker type of fishnet, matching the olive green, with more crystals on them – at every intersection of the diamonds to be precise. My mom’s favorite part of this whole creation was my flaring layered skirt, which too was showered in crystals and brimmed in gold. I was always amazed at how well she worked with her hands. The machine she was using was old and rusting, something was always breaking down or not functioning properly. Regardless of her disadvantages, she somehow always managed to get her work done exceptionally well for every client. That’s what was so great about her. Be it cooking, sewing, cleaning, everything was fulfilled to the best of her ability.

As I was growing up my grandmother would always talk of the future, how I would eventually be the one to drive her to the grocery store, finally graduate from high school and college, just those typical milestones we all wish to accomplish. When she came to the US she never went to school or got her license, so for her it was a privilege. Even as a child she tried to instill in me how important education was. Immigrating from Ukraine, was a dream, she knew all the possibilities that await for me. Even as a child she tried to instill how important it was to do well in school and society in general.

My grandmother was a strong, independent woman. She never liked to rely on anyone to get things done. With the little English that she knew (I wasn’t too much help, I only started speaking English around age 5), she would take me on the T into Boston all the time to run various errands. These were the good old days of taking the Green line, it only cost about 80 cents to get to one destination and was free on the way back. One night during our ritual evening strolls, she pointed to a parked truck and said to me “I can take that car right now and drive it if I really wanted to.” Trying to prove that she can drive and doesn’t need a license to do so. The rest of that night I spent imaging different scenarios of her just taking the car and gunning it. Somewhere far, where no one can tell her otherwise. Somewhere, anywhere, just as long as she could do it on her own. Then I would also imagine the police catching her in the act and arresting this poor, crazy, older women.

I didn’t realize that this might be one of the last times I hear her say “Punim lehtik vistighinehtik”, which in Yiddish, roughly translated means: Pretty face where did you sleep last night. At a fairly young age of 69, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. It didn’t really hit me hard until she was sitting in her favorite red velvet arm chair, digging through all of her red-gold and favorite pieces of jewelry sobbing, giving them all to me. Even as a kid I never really liked to show my true emotions, but here I was just so confused. It was my first time having to encounter something so serious and this time I just couldn’t hold back my tears.

It was rough seeing such a resilient, determined, powerful person deteriorate so quickly. During her final days she wasn’t very responsive and had an aid taking care of her twenty-four hours a day. It was crushing to see the nurse place a plastic stick with a green foam end dipped in water in order for her to just barely apply enough pressure to get any moisture out. Not only was it difficult for me to see this, but it was worse when I would go with my dad. For a man that was vivacious as ever, seeing him at such a low point wasn’t natural. When we got the call, a few days after she went into a coma, that was it. Her soul had left us here with her cold, bluing body. All that I’m left with now are memories.

 

 

**Note: This was the first essay I had to write for my Expository Writing class. We had to write a Memoir, but it had to be based around a place. I chose my grandmothers kitchen which allowed this story to sort of serve a double purpose.

**Side Note: I might periodically as I re-read it edit bits and pieces over time.

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