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by Shirley Coles
Even with my sleepy eyes still shut against the bright morning light fingering its way through the lacy curtains of my bedroom, I could recognize the delicious holiday foods which were part of the tapestry of my life in this house. It was the house of my grandparents who had welcomed Mama and me when my father died.
Today, Grandma would have been awake since dawn, dressing quietly in her own bedroom next to mine. She was short and plump, soft and round, so that there were no sharp angles when we hugged. Her brown hair, streaked with gray, was gathered in a neat bun just above the collar of her printed, sensible dress. Her black shoes were sturdy and plain and took her in sure, capable steps as she commanded her kitchen for the glorious meal to come. I peeked through my lashes to see her just as I had imagined.
The apron she wore was faded, but that seemed just right somehow. It was beige with small blue flowers and there was an outline of blue piping all around. It molded itself to Grandma as though it knew her by heart, tying around her waist and coming up around her neck to rest just under her bun of hair. It even had a special smell, warm and safe, like Grandma's arms around me and, whenever she cooked, it also seemed to smell a little like what we were having for dinner that day.
The barrage of delicious smells coming at me this special morning started the saliva filling my mouth. My whole body tingled awake as I recognized the frying onions, chicken soup, roasting chicken, and bread pudding with raisins and cinnamon. I could not bear lying there another moment. I bounded out of bed to become a part of the sweetest, lovingest, warmest place I knew.
Grandma's kitchen was a large, light, square room. The long table seemed to welcome as few or many of us as necessary and today it would wear its finest cloth and silver. For this morning, however, it sat waiting patiently, covered in its everyday oilcloth. As I sat down to breakfast, I looked about at this dear and familiar hub of our family life. The sink with its porcelain drainboard was filled with steaming and sudsy water to receive the pots and pans used in the all-day preparations. Next to the sink stood two covered washtubs which served as counter space for polishing candlesticks and holiday platters The large white refrigerator hummed quietly and sedately, wearing a bonnet of the centerpiece of flowers cut from Grandma's garden.
The pantry and cabinet doors yawned open as Grandma darted in and out, fetching and carrying a little bit of this and a heap of that. Was I ever to know the secrets she stored in her head…the thoughts which made her smile to herself and sing little bits of song from long ago as she made her magic in those bubbling pots?
My breakfast finished, I moved up beside her as she paused in her flight to poke, stir and add a dash of spice at the large four-burner stove. One blue speckled pot contained the soup. A thin yellow film of chicken fat floated on top and, as it boiled gently, I could see pieces of chicken, carrots, celery, onions and barley tumbling like clowns in its depths. A frying pan full of brown, sputtering onions and chicken livers sent out such delicious messages that my nose couldn't bear to take in more than shallow samples. This would later be chopped in a wooden bowl and served on crispy crackers. Grandpa always groaned with pleasure when he took his first bite.
"Rachel", he would say, "it gets better every year".
The third pot held a mixture of vegetables freckled with parsley. Grandma lifted a spoonful to her pursed lips and made a satisfied little smacking noise. She was pleased at not having to add a single thing to the pot. The fourth pot was filled with potatoes roasting and browning in a thick gravy. All this attended to, I waited for her to open the oven door.
I could hear wonderful, sputtering sounds coming from inside. And then…there it was…a big, fat, stuffed chicken lying on its back like a wealthy, snobbish old man sunning himself at Coney Island. I almost felt as though we were intruding, but Grandma ladled up the juices that had gathered around the huge bird and dribbled them down over its belly. Then, with a deep sigh, she closed the oven door and straightened her back. "Come, maydelah", she said, "let's sit a while and talk".
Shirley Coles is a married mother of three grown and
married children and four wonderful granddaughters. She is a feature writer (Shirley Sez) for Seniority, an
online publication, at www.seniority.co.uk
from the June 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine