frying chicken today (another epic event, resulting in a huge burn on my wrist), i suddenly had this memory-vision. of my maternal grandmother frying chicken, on the old wood stove, and us – my brother and me – waiting.
i do not remember my mother’s mother very well. i do not have stories she told. she died when i was approximately 12 years old… when my mother was in her early forties. she was Anna. she believed. quietly, contrary to her husband, and always, ever. she believed.
from today’s viewpoint, pulling all the memories together, i think, her faith gave strength to her children to live through what was a horrible time in the history of this nation, and in the history of my mother’s family. she was the silent, strong oakwood that kept the ship together, to speak metaphorically.
we did not get to see our mother’s parents too often. it was too far. the journey would take 4 hours one way. and the farm could not be left for that long. so, for us, kids, that journey would be a feast, a chance to be free of the endless farm chores, the weeding, the caring for the animals, the status of bastards (no, we were not illegal or born out of wedlock, we were simply the wrong ‘bloodline’ in the eyes of my paternal relatives, and they never hesitated to point that out), the status of outcasts among our peers because of the stories they told about my father’s family in the village. that journey of 160 km was a respite, a ticket to freedom, even if for a day.
and our mother’s mother would cook meat for us. usually chicken. it is hard to describe the meaning of this to people living in a world where meat is readily available in shops. meat was… a sign of utmost care. love, even. meat was the ultimate delicacy, something my brother and me really craved. meat was the final comfort food, the food that made one happy and satisfied. meat was not easy to come by – the soviet rules made it .. special, hard to get, even if one lived on a farm and raised their own chickens, pigs and cattle.
so all this feeling and much more is in the vision-memory. the quiet care. the sacrifice. the cooking. the feeling of security and being protected. the feeling of freedom.
and on that picture-feeling there is another picture-memory. of my mother frying chicken. she is sitting by the wood-stove back in the place that still is the land in my blood, and turning the chicken pieces with the fork. and she asks my brothers and me: ‘pick the bits you like, so i can fry them up proper, before i throw the rest of them into the sauce’. and my wee brother, and my brother and me pick the bits we like, of the stringy ancient chicken, and she fries that for us. the other pieces go into stew.
and i suddenly realised what the meaning of meat was in my life.
it was a continuity. a heritage of acceptance, security. a sign of faith – in who my mother is, in who i am. it was a quiet foundation of identity that does not perish. a simple act of .. frying chicken. for those one loves.
a picture i will never forget.