Wednesday, September 14, 2005


So Grandma came by today to finish digging her potatoes. There wasn’t much in the place where she was digging. There never is there as the place is almost completely in shade from several fruit trees. So she saves it for last.

And forever, grandma has been planting a most spectacular variety of potato. It is hard to describe the taste but basically, it has that very particular taste of potato that you might think of when you imagine the most delicious mashed potatoes you have every eaten. Seriously, it is as if there is already butter in there. And when you take a forkful your mouth just melts from the experience of having these potatoes as guests.

But of course grandma being grandma, she probably enjoys more the fact that she has these potatoes to lord over anyone who might be looking than to actually get off on the taste herself. You should have seen her last year, half in and half out of the podval, lowering the potatoes to their winter home like a helicopter rescue pulling a boy out of a collapsed dam. “Look!.” She says holding a potato that is about the size of junior football “Did you grow anything like this?”
“Some.” You snivel in return. It is a humiliating moment because the woman, as awful as she is has those potatoes and there ain’t a damned thing you can do about it.

But this year she didn’t have the chickens to help her. Last year she was forced to sell her egg laying hens at the market because the woman across the hall made a complaint about them. I don’t know why that woman, known to us only as the “Red Babushka”, a comment on her hair and fat, round red face did what she did. A ghastly women that one, married forever to that toady, Stepan Ivanovich. I don’t know how the man could stand it. But then maybe I don’t have the feel for masochism one would need to properly comprehend. Grandma said those eggs were made of gold for how much time and money she put into them. But there were fresh eggs every day and at planting time, gracious amounts of chicken shit to lace the ground a few centimeters under those delicious potatoes.

There are no growing secrets in Belarus. That is the first thing that you really learn when you start. There is the right way and then there are jokes. Grandma knew. Everyone knew. And she did it to the nines. Jesus those potatoes were good.

But this year there was nothing particularly interesting about grandma’s potatoes. When I stopped to talk to her yesterday and the day before, as she was digging them from the ground like pulling babies from a nursery bed, she only commented that these were nonsense. She was too proud to reminisce about last year or the year before. There were some large ones, a few, but nothing like what we all had gotten used to. But in that very second when I was there, she had one star-striking moment when five, huge, meaty orbs spilled from the hill as she gave the slighted tug on her stick. The woman uses a copatchic like Yasha Haifitz used a bow. Never even cut on one of her darlings. And because I was there she had for herself a momentary audience. She couldn’t hide the blush and for the smallest of moments there was that evil grin again. And she took a breath and the dissertation started. And in that short moment before she stopped herself she was her old horrible self again. But as I said, it was only an instant; she knew I wouldn’t listen, I wouldn’t allow her star to shine. She knew this. And besides, I knew the difference now. I had been here. I was no longer there to be impressed. And the words were replaced with a wane smile, and her eyes sparkled with the mild pain of reserving herself.

It isn’t the same since grandpa died. Nothing is. This garden is just a place now to take the bus to. This isn’t even her home any more. Now she lives in another place, a new apartment in a new apartment building. A place that grandpa received for being a hero in the oh-so-long-ago war but never lived to see. Why couldn’t he have found the strength to live even six more days? “Look papa. Look at the keys. They have finally given you the keys.” The man loved getting things from the state. He was a hero, had a comfortable classification and therefore received a good pension. And it was he who dug these gardens that grandma now returns to. It was he who planted the fruit trees that shaded that back section, made the bee houses, the chicken coop, pruned the branches and covered the nursery.

Those are my memories of the man, sitting on the bench in the shade, under the canopy of the apple, the apricot and the pear trees. His duck shaped watering can in hand, futzing, puttering, tying a piece of string around a metal stake, a scaffold for a single bean vine or a pickle plant. And of course grandma yelling at him. Always and forever yelling at him. The woman went ballistic when the wind blew, but no one could take it like Tanya’s father. I’ll be honest, I can’t see it. I can’t see it and I can’t do it. For me…it is just not… right. And no matter how much Tanya wants to do it to me I just will not take it. But yet here I am reveling in a moment of pure nostalgia for the situation. Was it beautiful? Could it have been beautiful? Or is this just a trick of the light, the orange and yellow autumn light.

My mom also died last year. A car crash. I couldn’t go to the funeral because… well, because I couldn’t. And I don’t want to say much about that. We hadn’t been close. Lots of bad memories, hard memories.

But then a few nights ago I found myself saying words that I heard every night for the first 12 years or so of my life. “Good night, pleasant dreams, sleep till eight o’clock in the morning.” I was saying this to Anya who was smiling up at me from her crib, “Wake up, be a strong and healthy girl, live to a ripe old age, be an old, old, old, old woman. Yes, yes? Kiss, kiss.”

I guess my grandmother used to say this to my mom when she was that age. Grandma is now 97 and pretty much out of it. And as far as I know, though she was born only about 150 miles from Irene, she never dug a potato in her life. Worked on Wall Street for a while is what I heard.

But then again, this was back in the day...

I have a new chapter up over on the book page as of yesterday. Please check it out and of course, write to me and tell me what you think of all of this. Lot’s of stuff going on, what with Lukashenka in New York and all. So while you are at it, check out the “Times” as well

More soon…