Aunt Juliet is standing at the stove in her flowered apron, stirring an old ceramic bowl full of eggs with a fork. She picks up the old worn, wooden spoon, sticks it into a can, and with a quick twist, it’s heaping with pale tan, rendered pork lard. The lard is soft and beginning to melt as she bangs the spoon against the side of the pan. Picking up the bowl, she slides the rich orangy yellow slurry gently into the melting dollop of zsir, swirling around in the pan she waves in the other hand. Now she begins to stir the eggs briskly to break up the thickening cooked pieces. Next, she cuts thick slices of white bread, two fingers worth, and lays them into the toaster that falls apart on both sides. I marvel at how her eggs never get dry, they never get hard, and they stay soft and moist, no matter how long they sit on your plate. Then, moments before she delivers all the eggs that particular slice of toast can hold, she deftly spins the bread from the toaster onto her palm, and with one flick of her right hand, slathers it with deep golden butter, then pivots and picks up a huge spoon and piles a monumental scoop of eggs on top, all while en route to the destination plate.
The bread is dense and soft, while at the same time, strong enough to support the pile of scrambled eggs, now glistening with drippings, ready to eat.
I watch and marvel at how effortlessly she works, how her timing is exquisite. I think to myself of my lessons, and how clumsy and repetitive the movements are. It dawns on me and I realize deep in my soul, that she is the prima ballerina of this simple kitchen, and someday I want to move like her in mine.
The few farmhands are beginning to trickle in. As they do, she puts a plate with a slab of bread and eggs in front of each one as they sit down. I have the best spot at the table, it’s near her, the window, and the toaster. She moves away toward the old beat-up aluminum pot on the stove where the coffee is cooking. She strains the liquid into cups and puts them on the table too. If someone wants milk, she pours the boiled milk in first, then the hot black coffee.
The light from the window is streaming right onto me and my plate. My pile of eggs, though not as big as the workers, shimmers in the sunshine streaming through the large window facing east.
I can hear Nagyi in the next room, she is pushing down the pickles in the barrel. I can hear the squooshing, gurgling sound, as each push submerges the gherkins that grow outside. They are buoyant, and no amount of pushing them down will make them stay under. Her hands are green and cracked from the vinegar and dye in the brine that gurgles up around her arms every day.
The pickling room is right next to the kitchen, the other side is the exterior wall and doors leading out to the fields. The house was designed like no other home I’ve ever seen. My Aunt and Uncle designed it for themselves and their growing business. Next to the kitchen on the other side is a sitting room and on the outside of that wall is the farm stand.
Kereszt Anu, calls her. “Nagyi!, Gyere!, kész a reggelid”. She calls back, “Jo”! I wait for her to come in, shuffling a little, then sitting across from me at the table. She is wearing a wrap-around apron too, designed like a pinafore with contrasting binding. Hers is a subdued dark blue. I love this old woman. Her face is hardly wrinkled, pale grey/blue eyes don’t wander around, just stay focused on what’s ahead of her. Her gray hair is tied up in a bun, a few strands loose around her ears. She smiles. She is quiet. So very quiet, except when she giggles a little if something amuses her. She giggles with her mouth closed. Her body barely registers the sound moving through her. She is complete, without any desire for attention, unlike the drama sisters, one of whom married her son.
She has the stillness about her of someone that has seen so much and has since surrendered. There is no combativeness in her and she doesn’t fight against or even acknowledge the tides that swirl around her.
I sit quietly and drink my coffee, (I’m allowed to, even though I’m a kid. I drink wine and beer too). I try to drink it with less milk and sugar to show how grown-up I am. Aunt Juliska’s voice is like music, stormy music, a symphony of sound. The emotions, the rippling highs, and lows, every narrative charged with the drama, of who did what to whom, with emphatic gestures illustrating, in full-blown operatic intensity, just how closely these incidents are driving her to the edge. Nagyi’s murmurs and occasional giggles, punctuate my Aunts one-way conversation. I’m not sure if she is enjoying the telling of the incident, the spectacle of arms waving, spoons and pots clanging, or the apparent escalating melt-down. Probably all of it. Maybe it’s a breath of noisy air before she goes back to her barrel of pickles, where she squooshes and submerges them again in silence, while lining up the endless rows of glass jars that she will fill with green little gherkins, beautifully organized before they’re submerged again with seasoned vinegar then sealed.
Notes & translations:
zsir: animal lard, usually pork
Kereszt Anyu: God Mother
Nagyi: Affectionate term for Grandmother
Nagyi!, Gyere!, kész a reggelid” : Grandma, your breakfast is ready
Jo : Good
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