Louis, my husband’s grandfather, was born in 1888 in Lithuania/Russia. Women frequently died of complications in childbirth in those days, and so it was that Louis was the son of his father’s second wife – who was also his first wife’s sister.
An older half-brother had immigrated to New York City and then had the incredible good fortune of winning $7,777.77 in a lottery, a small fortune in those days, enabling him to pay for Louis’ passage – if Louis could escape Russia. Louis must have traveled quite some distance to reach the border, as Krekenava was in central Lithuania, and his destination was Antwerp, some 1,745 km to the southwest.
On his first attempt to cross, he was caught and jailed for trying. Louis was a good checkers player, and so was an imprisoned Cossack captain, and they became friends. Louis was a small 17-year-old (5′ tall and 122# is recorded in his “Declaration of Intention” to become a U.S. citizen), and the Cossack looked out for him. After his release, Louis then succeeded in sneaking across the border disguised as a girl going to market with the village women.
As he neared Antwerp, Louis was hungry. He approached a street vendor selling fruit, but they spoke different languages. The vendor used gestures to convince him to buy a banana, something Louis was completely unfamiliar with. After biting off a portion of it, Louis spat it out, concluding that the vendor had fooled him. He didn’t know that he was supposed to peel it! Years later he would laugh as he told the story.
Louis reached New York City in December of 1905.
Many years ago, I became acquainted with an old Irish fellow named Tommy. We were among the crazy young people (at least that’s what most of the locals thought we were) who were “going back to the land.” We were figuring out how to be carpenters, stone masons, gardeners, and so forth, espousing the old ways and doing it all ourselves. [But that’s another whole story…].
Anyway, Tommy smoked a pipe that fitted in between whatever remaining teeth he had and was ever-present. It was challenging to make out whatever he said, and so it was one morning when my phone rang and the unmistakable voice of Tommy asked (dispensing with the introductions), “Do ya want some tarrupps?”
“Some WHAT??” I replied. He repeated, “Tarrupps. Do ya want some?” I’m thinking – but not venturing – building material? Food? Tools?
Not having the foggiest idea of what tarrupps were and whether, indeed, I did want some, I opted to accept his offer. He told me to come on over and get ’em. I did, never letting on that I was completely ignorant of what I was being gifted. And that was the day I first cooked turnips. And why, today, as I cut up some turnips to roast for Thanksgiving, I remember old Tommy.
My grandmother, Sarah Maud Pomeroy, was born in rural Canada back in 1884. When her mother died in 1898, fourteen year-old Maud became the woman of the house. She shouldered the cooking, housework, and the raising of younger siblings, and by the time of her marriage to John Wesley Andrus four years later, she was well-versed in domestic skills.
Around 1905, Wes and Maud moved to an acre of land in Chili, NY, just west of the city of Rochester. Wes found employment, but he also put considerable effort into growing fruit and vegetables and in raising chickens and selling eggs. In those days, every home had a larder, and theirs was filled with the food he grew and Maud canned or root cellared. Along the eastern edge of the acre he planted a long row of grapes.
Some years later, Maud’s sister, Elizabeth, had a recipe for 7 Day Chunk Pickles, and Maud decided to make them. She copied the recipe. It was one of those old methods in which you put a whole bunch of cucumbers in a large crock in the basement, fill it with a salt/water brine, and let it sit. In this case, you were to add something to the mix each day for a week before putting it in individual canning jars. On Day 6, the recipe said to add 203 grape leaves, so Maud went out to the grape fence and began to pick. By the time she finished, the vines were nearly bare. She put the resultant pile of grape leaves in the crock, but things just didn’t look right to her. She called Elizabeth.
“Elizabeth, I’m making those 7-day pickles, and today I was supposed to put in 203 grape leaves. It seemed like a lot, and when I got to 200, I said, ‘Good enough, but it doesn’t look right to me.”
Elizabeth told her to hold on while she checked her recipe.
Moments later, Elizabeth returned to the phone, howling with laughter. “You were supposed to put in 2 or 3 leaves, not 203!!!
When I inherited my gramma’s recipe box many years later, there was the pickle recipe, with the directions to add “2 o
r OR 3 grape leaves” firmly corrected in ink.
And that’s the story of Gramma’s famous Grape Leaf Pickles.
‘Funny the skills you accumulate over the course of a lifetime: driving a nail, mending a mitten, riding a horse, baking an apple pie, tap dancing, writing a blog. Many of them you don’t ever think about, but now and then a learned skill might catch your notice as something that sets you apart from the pack.
In my case, being able to insert four fingers in my mouth and rip off a loud, shrill whistle has always seemed to me to be one of those things that elevate me to a place most girls don’t get to. It’s good for calling a crowd to order or summoning a dog, not to mention the fact that people are impressed.
And although you often hear somebody say, “I smell a rat!”, I really can. This doesn’t happen very often, but yesterday, in the barn, there it was: my nose, and the unmistakable aroma that falls somewhere between piss, vinegar, and old sneakers. I’d forgotten all about rat-smelling as part of my skill-set, but yup, sure enough, I, my friends, have it.
It’s funny what life in the country can teach a girl. And now I need to impart that knowledge to the cat.
These days I am acquainted with many wonderful and amazing people because of my art. In these artists there exists the possible, the unusual, the unique, the weird and the beautiful, expressed in form, movement, sound, image, rhyme and probably a dozen other sorts of vents for the fire within. One such person is named Hope, and besides being a wonderful digital and photo artist, she is also a healer. I learned this because I mentioned having to fit a volunteering commitment in around a health issue.
Holding a small mixed media sculpture in front of me, Hope asked me to place my hands on two blue stones which were intregal to the piece. She held stones on the opposite side and closed her eyes. As perhaps a minute passed, I could feel a slight tingling in my arms, and then she opened her eyes and smiled, saying it had worked and that she could also feel my energy coming back to her.
Twenty-two hours later I was standing in line to pay for a delicious plate of organic, vegetarian food at The Table restaurant in Ottawa’s west end. A young woman in front of me struck up conversation, as women will often do when sharing such a wait. Her wavy, shoulder-length hair simply parted, she radiated a glow that didn’t come from make-up, and she brought to mind a painting from a long-ago art history class. Yes, the food is wonderful, no it isn’t the first time I’ve eaten here. “I’m excited because I think there are things here my grandson could eat! He’s allergic to lots of things; soy, dairy,” I said.
That statement somewhat startled me, but I don’t think I let it show. Good grief, I thought, another wack-o Christian, but I replied sure, if she’d like to. I imagined she meant later, so it was quite surprising to hear her – still glowing and radiating that beautiful, peaceful smile – speaking words of blessing softly beside me. Even more surprising was that no particular god or son thereof was being mentioned.
“What is your name?” she asked, “Judy,” I answered, and she ended her words of blessing with “and his grandmother, Judy, to whom he brings so much joy.”
And then she turned and walked away.
I joined my husband at a small table near the window and told him that I thought I had just met an angel.
Were the encounters with these two women coincidence? I’ll never know, but they profoundly impressed me and gave me a great deal of food for thought.
The painting posted here is Botticelli’s Madonna. I have not been able to find the image that came to my mind at The Table, but this one is similar to it and would be perfect if Madonna were radiantly smiling.
My life is indeed blessed. May prayers and healing be affirmed.