Monday, August 30, 2010

where it all started.

A week from this coming Thursday I will be leaving for my long-awaited trip to Belgium. While there we will also be visiting Paris, France and possibly London, England as they are both just a short trip away from where we'll be based. Paris is a couple hour train ride and London, apparently, is just a 30 minute ferry ride! Who knew? (Um...I should have...but apparently I didn't pay very close attention in my Geography class...ahem.)

Looking at this map I see all of the countries that my family came from...Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Czechoslovakia....all right there on one continent. Interesting to think about my ancestors migrating to the United States...especially as I'm continuing to read A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove. They worked so hard to get here. And they worked hard once they arrived. They were poor. They didn't have much at all. Noni told a story of the traveling "salesman" passing through selling new leather shoes and beautiful dresses and shiny new pots and pans. Her family was poor...and her shoes were always worn and her stockings always had holes in them. So when the "salesman" passed was a big event. I say "salesman" because apparently, as Noni learned later in life, the goods he was selling were very often stolen.

Papa called the other day...said he was "waiting on those beans". I make pinto beans. With a ham hock. And I use my Noni's recipe. So Papa likes them. He called about a month ago to ask if I'd made any lately. And...if I had made them...did I have some for him, too? And I happened to have some in the freezer so I took them over to him. My mom was there caring for him so we ended up all eating dinner together...beans and was nice. I told him I'd make more soon and bring him some. That's why he called...wondering where the heck those beans were! So later that afternoon I ran them over to his house.

He was napping...but asked his home health aide to wake him when I got there. That made me feel pretty special...he does like his naps. But...I guess that means he likes me even more. I stayed to visit a while. We talked about my upcoming trip...and some of his travels while in the Navy. Then we got onto the subject of life when he was a kid. His father was a coal miner as well as having the duties of running their small farm (with the help of Papa's mother and all of his siblings...11 of them, I think). They grew their own food and milked their own cows. Papa was in charge of giving his siblings haircuts and he knew how to make their shoes! He told me how it was his job to get up early in the morning and get the fire going. His mother would be up getting breakfast ready...leftover polenta, leftover bread, etc.

He told me about one breakfast that was one of his favorites...he would go out early in the morning and gather the button mushrooms from a nearby meadow. Then his mother would turn them into a breakfast of sauteed mushrooms in a thick gravy. They'd eat that for breakfast with leftover crusty bread for dipping. He said it was delicious! Not what we would think of as breakfast food...but when you don't have Cocoa Puffs or Frozen Waffles to slap in front of your kid, you feed them what is available. Talk about eating seasonally.

I have to admit. It was not my intention to talk about heritage or my grandparents. What was on my mind when I began this post was all that I still have to do before I leave for Belgium. My intention was to list it all out here...bullet-points...but it evolved into something else. And I'm glad that it did. I love my grandparents...and love hearing about their lives as children. I told Papa about the book I was reading...and how it seemed to me that, although life was hard and the work was hard and families were poor, it seemed to me that life was a lot simpler in those times. my surprise, he agreed. He has fond memories of his childhood...gathering berries for his mother's wine...building a room onto their house with a dance floor for his sister's wedding...reciting the Lord's Prayer to his mother each morning in Russian. Life was hard...but it was also simple and good and honest. 

Sounds good to me, Papa.


Lelainia N. Lloyd said...

This is why the hearth is the heart of a home. If you feed someone, if you sit down and break bread with them, then you are afforded the chance to connect with them.

We've become a society that is so BUSY that we don't take time to share a meal with the people we love most. Dinner is not about the physical food-it's about the spiritual food, the ministering to one another as a family. It feed not only our bodies, but our souls to have that time of connection with one another. It reinforces bonds.

Food is the first language of love we as human beings learn. In my house, if I love you, I feed you. There is no greater show of friendship from me than being invited to my table. It is the prairie way, the way I was raised, the way of my people.

There is not a culture on earth that does not speak love through food.

Nancy said...

so glad you shared this. family heritage is so important. my husband's dad has written a 2 volume memoir of his life and had it publshed. i love that it's in black & white; those stories will forever be recorded.

Wren said...

You are going to have one amazing adventure my friend! Keeping you close to my heart as you travel!

Patricia said...

What a great story!
Have a wonderful time!!
And look out ;), next week I'm in Paris too!!!

Mari said...

Very precious heritage and memories. Loved it.
Can't believe it's only a week away. I am praying for you dear one!

You Can Call Me Jane said...

I love hearing stories like this. And one day, you'll be telling your grandchildren about this trip to Belgium you took so many years ago...:-).

ImplausibleYarn said...

This is a great post making me feel sentimental and wishing I was going on an adventure soon. You will have a great time, I have only ever been to the airport in Brussels but let me tell you, top notch! Or it was...a decade ago.

Anonymous said...

Oh Michelle! So glad that this is the turn your post took. What a wonderful conversation.

I feel so blessed to have my grandparents next door, and at 84 my grandfather was digging up stumps in my yard today!!

When I think about my Grandmother raising five children on so much less and with so much less, I am amazed at her!!!

I know you are not leaving yet, but I hope you have a FANTASTIC time. You are going to see the WORLD girl!!!! Wow!!!

Oh and I am too embarressed to say how long it took me to find Belgium on that map!!

Talitha said...

This is so beautiful, Michelle! What precious memories. I called my grandfather Papa too. :)

Anonymous said...

loved this michelle. my kids call my dad papa as well.