This past Saturday we piled into the car and drove across town to visit with Zsolt’s grandmother, Anna for a chat and to pick some fruit. She’s his grandmother on his mother’s side. I met her about 9.5 years ago, when, while visiting Hungary, the ‘grandmothers’ would come by for a meal. By grandmothers, I’m referring to Zsolt’s grandmothers and aunt Zsuzsi – who I may write about one of these days, because she’s quite the character.
Anyhow, back then and for much of the time since, I didn’t really get to chat with Anna. Fact is, we speak different languages, and Zsolt’s dad’s side off the family are very much gregarious show stealers. Hilarious people! His gran, Gyongyi, was always fretting about being old and Zsuzsi was always telling her latest story from wandering around town and having no sense of personal space.
Anna was far more quiet. She would sit across the table from me, on the very far side and only occasionally – and calmly – ask a question that Zsolt might translate.
Then a few years ago she moved to a new home, and we suddenly began to pay her visits there. Her house once belong to her grandson, who has quite the green thumb. The yard is a literal orchard of white peaches, sour cherries, apples, berries and more. It’s not even that big – it’s just incredibly well designed. So we go and sit in the garden, and she makes lovely food that I don’t eat – but think looks really, really delicious.
Inside of Anna’s house, where we migrate whenever it begins to rain, is a real treasure of stories. Her walls are covered with carefully preserved photographs from her days as a school girl, and her wedding, and her children (including Zsolt’s mom), and more. And, her sofas are covered with finely embroidered pillow cases – with or without the pillows inside. That was her profession, she grew up doing embroidery and had an incredible talent with the needle.
Everyone sits around the large table in the center of the room – the old family table – and politely chit chats about the weather, the amount of snow in Canada, their sore joints, some family gossip . . . and then, if we stay there long enough, someone like Zsolt’s uncle or aunt may show up, and the chit chat happens again – until eventually, it doesn’t. People go out to pick fruit, or turn to one another for more quiet chatting.
Zsolt and I are left there sitting beside his grandmother, Anna. And now, the real conversation can begin.
Anna has a very special talent beyond caring for her home, sewing and the garden. She’s an excellent multilingual conversationalist. Nope, she doesn’t speak a bit of English. But what she’s very good at is knowing when to pause.
Zsolt will look at me, then ask in english: What should I ask her? So I say, ask her about her garden. And then he does. Anna will reply, and then she will pause so that Zsolt can translate to me. Then, the stories somehow unfurl from there, and as she tells each piece of the story, she’ll pause and Zsolt can translate.
Normally folks go on for 5 minutes, and then I get the 5 word translation because big Z can’t remember what they were saying. With Anna it is so wonderfully different.
During our last visit, I asked Anna whether she makes palinka (a kind of very strong fruit alcohol) from the abundance of fruit in her garden. She explained that her children gather the fruit to make palinka, but she personally has no use for it.
Oh really? I ask – as Zsolt translates everything – Why is that?
She really just has no use for drinking alcohol. She’s never cared.
Oh, I reply. Me neither! I just don’t care about it. I’ve always thought this was a genetic thing I got from my mother.
Now Zsolt explains his stance on alcohol, that he doesn’t ever drink it at home because I never do, but when out with friend he’ll definitely have some drinks.
Then, Anna explains that her father loved his drink. They had so many grapes and wine all around them, there was an abundance of it. Her family always had alcohol on the family dining table, and when folks visited, they were always sent away with a bottle of wine from the vineyard. It was as plentiful as the bottled water we have today.
And Anna, when she was little, used to go to that dining table and pour herself little sips of the palinka and the wine – just quick tastes. She’d do it whenever it pleased her, and no one ever noticed, because there was so much of it!
And as she tells this, we can picture her as a little girl sneaking into the room and pouring herself a quick shot of drink. And suddenly we know her a little bit deeper. We know her beyond her age and status as a grandmother, beyond the eye surgery she just had, or how she becomes tired very easily these day. We know her story, just a little bit more.
All of this because she pauses, and in turn, I can ask questions.
It’s a lovely think to chat with Anna. In those moment, I don’t feel the language divide. I just feel like family.