It Snowed and Snowed: I Can See Russia

Monday Morning Musings:

Another post based on lines taken from other works.

“It snowed and snowed, the whole world over,

Snow swept the world from end to end.

A candle burned on the table;

A candle burned.”

–Boris Pasternak, from “Winter Night,” Doctor Zhivago

 

“When the snow flies and the night falls

There’s a light in the window and a place called home

At the end of the storm.”

Judy Collins, “The Blizzard”*

The snow flies and the night falls

Reminding me of winters past,

Of other seas of white,

The time it snowed

When our girls were young

And school was closed for a week.

They played, and I baked

Cookies, and donuts, and bread.

We drank hot chocolate

Ate cinnamon toast

And read books.

It was cold outside, but

It was cozy and warm

Inside,

A place called home.

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The snow flies, and I can see Russia

In my mind. I think of Dr. Zhivago

Trudging, stumbling through the blizzard,

Blanketed in an icy layer of white

Nearly dead

Finding Lara and warmth.

The stunning cinematography of the movie**

Who can forget

The movie images of the country house?

Surfaces a frosty filigree

A beautiful ice palace

And they are happy there

For a brief moment

When time and history freeze

Before the inevitable melting

And the resumption of life.

The death of winter becomes the birth of spring.

The snowy white landscape blooms with yellow and green.

 

The snow flies, and makes me ponder.

I think of my grandfather,

My mother’s father, born in Gomel, Russia,

Now Belarus.

He was traveling west as

Lara was settling into life with Pasha in Yuriatin

And Yuri became Doctor Zhivago,

Just before the war and revolution.

Not that my grandfather was in Moscow,

But he must have experienced the unrest,

Seen the gap between the Pashas and the Tonyas.

 

Did the snow fly during winter nights in Gomel?

Did my grandfather walk through drifts of snow?

I don’t know what his house was like

Or how it was heated.

Was there a big stove?

Did they have a samovar for tea?

Did it seem like it snowed

And snowed the whole world over

When he was a boy?

 

The snow flies, and I think of

When I was a child.

I wanted it to snow,

Longed to have more than a trace

In our Dallas yard.

Then we moved back to Pennsylvania,

And there was snow.

I listened to the radio for school closings,

And went sledding with my boyfriend.

The guys did crazy stunts,

I watched and laughed.

And I married that boy.

 

The snow flies, reminding me of passing hours.

I know nothing of my grandfather’s childhood.

Nothing of his hopes and dreams.

And I cannot ask him now.

Did he play in the snow?

He came to Philadelphia

A young man

Just before the assassination of the Archduke.

Fleeing his homeland only to serve

In the navy of his adopted country

During the time of war and flu,

An epidemic that killed more people

Than did guns or earlier plagues.

He married a daughter, one of seven,

Of another man from Gomel, a butcher.

Would he think it funny that some of

His descendants do not eat meat?

A choice made possible

By his immigration to this country

Of variety and possibilities.

My grandfather worked hard.

I don’t imagine he spent much time

Watching the snow fall.

But after he retired, he learned to dance

And paint.

He walked and swam.

He played with his grandchildren

Whenever he visited from his home

In Miami Beach.

His winter years spent not in winter cold,

But in sun and warmth.

A place of tropical colors,

Of sandy beaches, not snowy fields.

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My grandfather as a young man. The photo is undated, but taken in Philadelphia.

The snow flies and the wind howls.

I’ve cooked and I’ve baked enough

To chase away the chill.

Banished briefly, though not forever.

There’s soup, and bread, and pie.

And we will eat and enjoy.

We’ll sit with blankets and cats

And binge-watch TV.

Tomorrow we may venture out

To see the winter landscape.

But for now

We watch as

The snow flies, and the night falls.

Inside there’s contentment and light,

Color that contrasts with winter’s

Black and white.

A candle burns on a table.

And I am home and warm

At the end of the storm.

 

If it’s snowing, then I’m probably cooking. This is what I made during out weekend blizzard. (After the pre-blizzard cooking.) 🙂

Honoring my Eastern European-Jewish roots with Vegetarian Borscht

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and Black Bread (Smitten Kitchen)

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And my American birthplace with Pumpkin Pie

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*Judy Collins, “The Blizzard”

**Earlier in the month, I had fun discussing the movie, Doctor Zhivago with Scott Parker-Anderson. See his post on the movie here.

 

 

Feast of the Immigrant

Monday Morning Musings:

When I was a teen

My grandfather used to bring

Sunday brunch

To our house.

Heralded by a cloud of cigar smoke–

That I could smell

From my attic bedroom,

He entered,

Calling out greetings

In his loud voice

And making everyone scurry

To get the food on the table.

Perhaps it wasn’t technically

A feast,

But

It was a ritual

Of sorts.

A Sunday brunch

With an abundance of food.

My grandfather,

My father’s father,

Had a personality

That was far bigger

Than his short,

But corpulent

Body.

My sister and I secretly called him

Harry the Hat.

There’s a photo of him

On the Atlantic City Boardwalk

With said hat

And swaggering stance.

And now that I think of it,

He always did wear a hat,

As men used to do.

I picture it on a side table

In our living room.

I imagine his scrappiness

Came from growing up

As an immigrant.

I remember him telling me

About his voyage to America.

How his ship was stalled for some time

In Trieste,

Then part of the

Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I recently discovered,

The ship was called the S.S. Gulia.

It carried him, his mother, and a sister

Across the ocean to New York

In 1904,

His father having left Kiev earlier—

Was already in Philadelphia.

And I wonder

What this voyage must have been like

For a young child–

He was only 7

His sister 4.

And for their mother.

Traveling from Kiev,

Second class citizens

In their homeland,

To Trieste,

Escaping persecution,

And then

To the United States.

And I wished I had

Asked him more.

But it’s too late.

As a young man

He sold newspapers

At the Pennsylvania Railroad Station.

He and my grandmother eloped,

And then returning to his parents’ home,

They were given a bed

That broke

A memorable wedding night,

I imagine.

Did that immigrant boy,

That young man

Ever think

That someday

He would be sitting in a dining room

In a Philadelphia suburb

With his grandchildren?

Or that he would be bringing a feast?

Who knew from Sunday brunch then?

(As my relatives might have said.)

There would be two world wars

And countless others,

Battles and fear

And fights over immigrants

And immigration

Then

And now.

Who will be the lucky few

To be admitted?

But he was fortunate.

He lived

The American dream.

We sat amidst Old World antiques

In modern American comfort.

We were consumers,

And we consumed.

Lox,

Never nova,

Cream cheese,

Herring,

And the fish that we called “yum yum fish”

(What WAS it?)

A mystery lost to time.

Chewy bagels,

Good Jewish rye–

With seeds

Of course.

My mother sliced onions

And boiled new red potatoes.

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The plate my mom always used for Sunday brunches, although we ignored the categories.

My then boyfriend,

Now husband,

Had never had such food.

He glanced at me,

Trying to follow my lead,

But it didn’t take him long

To love these,

To him,

Exotic dishes.

My grandfather must have been in his 70s.

He seemed very old to me then,

And my mom

Was younger than I am now.

My parents were divorced,

But still my grandfather

Came

And my dad, too.

Family bonds

Perhaps strengthened from immigrant status.

My mom discovered only after she was married

That the people she sometimes visited with her father

Were the relatives of his first wife

Who died soon after they were married.

My mom thought they were cousins

Because she had so many

So she finally asked her mother

Who are these people?

And found she was not

Actually related to them at all.

But still–

Immigrant bonds

And immigrant food

More precisely,

Food eaten by immigrants here,

Now fashionable and expensive.

And nostalgic.

My sister decided her birthday

And a shopping trip for my mom

Was a good excuse to enjoy these delicacies

Once again.

A brilliant idea!

And so we did.

Discussing family news and memories

As we ate.

After brunch,

My husband and my sister’s wife

Stayed behind to watch football.

American football.

My mom, sisters, and younger daughter

Went to the mall.

We piled into a dressing room—

Our dressing room at that Macy’s—

And the saleswoman grumbled that we

Weren’t supposed to be there,

Although there was no sign,

So we stayed.

My mother dismayed by her body

That has grown and aged

And we dressing her

And all of us laughing

Laughing so hard

Because

Well, dressing someone is funny,

Isn’t it?

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Dressing Room antics

And we lovingly teased

My mom about boyfriends

And showing cleavage,

And then we went back

To my sister’s

For dessert.

Because

After all

Birthdays need cake.

And shopping

Is hungry work.

Recipes and Other Stuff:

Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake:

I forgot to take a picture and quickly took one at my sister’s that is not very good, and so then I took one at home, which still is not good, but oh well, did I mention it’s Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake? That’s all you need to know, right?

Also, it’s made in a 9×13 pan (or whatever is similar in your part of the world) so it’s easily transportable–in case you’re taking it to your sister’s house for brunch.

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I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen

BUT I changed the filling

Because sorry, Deb, but really, brown sugar and nuts were calling out to me.

Here’s the filling I used—half inside, and the remainder on top.

Filling:

¾ cups firmly packed brown sugar

¾ cup chopped nuts (it might have been a bit more. I used walnuts, but it’s entirely possible there were also some pecans mixed in. The nuts at my house fraternize.)

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

1 bag bittersweet chocolate chips

The batter is thick and will fight with you as you try to spread it in the pan. But fight on, and you will be victorious!

On a related note: This past weekend, we saw the movie, Brooklyn, which is about a young Irish woman immigrant who is caught between her new life in Brooklyn and her old life in Ireland in the 1950s. My husband and I both enjoyed it very much. Also, she, the Irish immigrant, learns to eat spaghetti with her Italian-American boyfriend. So you see, there is a connection to this post!

 

 

Haunting the House of History

Monday Morning Musings:

“We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.”

–Maya Angelou

He was 59 years old, 5 ft., 6 inches tall, with grey mixed hair and grey eyes. But there is probably no one left alive who remembers this great grandfather of mine, the father of my mother’s mother. My mother only remembers that he was Orthodox with a long beard and that he worked at a fish store or counter. His naturalization papers say he was a butcher in 1921. Born in Russia, he arrived in the Philadelphia on a ship from Bremen, Germany, in 1913, demonstrating that life’s journeys often take a circuitous path. His wife and children—minus the two eldest who were stuck in England—arrived in 1914. They left their homeland shortly before it was ripped apart by revolution, and much of the world was swept into a war. By the time of the 1920 census, after WWI, the household consisted of my great grandparents, their eight children, and four cousins, including the artist Abraham Hankins. They spoke Yiddish, and they owned a radio.

I’ve never understood the worship of ancestors or the feeling of superiority some people have because their ancestors “came over on the Mayflower” or because they are descended from some notable person of the past. I mean, it’s interesting and it’s cool, but it doesn’t make you a better person. After all, if you go back far enough, we all came from Lucy or someone like her. Laudable figures of the past can have descendants who do horrible things—just as horrible parents can have wonderful children. Our surroundings and our genes may affect us (“Oh, that’s where my grey eyes came from,” said my daughter), and influence us, but they do not rule us. Yet discovering information about these people who lived in the past is fascinating. I don’t know if these ancestors of mine were good people or not, but just like immigrants today, they faced difficult, even life-threatening conditions in their homelands. They bravely boarded ships—taking a leap of faith that their lives would be better in America. It was a journey of both body and mind, a voyage to a new world, leaving old ways and old ties behind. Perhaps it is enough to know this about them.

My mother’s mother was here with her family. My mother’s father left his parents and sisters behind in Russia, and he never saw them again. My mother remembers when her father received a letter telling him that his father had died. That was the only time she ever saw him cry.

My older daughter was with us for a couple of days this past week, visiting from Boston. It was windy and raining outside, the almost nor’easter, but we were snug inside the house. (OK. I’ll be honest– it was cold in the house because I didn’t turn on the heat.) Sitting across from one another at the kitchen table, armed with our computers, and fortified with apple-chocolate scones (based on these from Smitten Kitchen),

Roasted Apple and Chocolate Scone

Roasted Apple and Chocolate Scone

my Mandelbrot (aka “Mommy Cookies” discussed in other posts), coffee, and tea—because mental journeys require sustenance, too–we used the technology of the present to tackle the mysteries of the past. Wrestling with online documents, trying to read odd spelling and handwriting, and knitting together broken timelines, we created and expanded our family trees. She worked on my husband’s family, and I worked on my parent’s. We labored companionably, occasionally punctuating the silence with “listen to this” or giggling over an odd phrase. A woman who was divorced early in the twentieth century fascinates us. We’re both slightly obsessed by another of my husband’s ancestors, a 15-year-old factory girl who was murdered—shot—by a jealous suitor.

This daughter then went on to spend an evening with her sister and a dinner with my mom. It was definitely a weekend of family, present and past.

Present and past, love and family, are themes in Coming Home, the movie my husband and I saw yesterday. It opens during the Cultural Revolution in China. Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming), a former professor, has escaped from the re-education camp he’s been sent to. His wife, Feng Wanyu (Gong Li), called “Teacher Yu,” attempts to meet him at a crowded train station, but their teenage daughter, Dandan, hoping to gain a prize role in a propaganda ballet, has alerted the authorities. The scene at the train station is tense and exciting, but it only sets up the movie for what happens later. When the Cultural Revolution ends, Lu is sent home. Yu, however, does not recognize him. She was traumatized, physically and emotionally at the train station. She loves her husband, but her love of him is rooted in her image of him in the past. He, in the present, attempts to reactivate her memories, to bring the past love to the present moment. It is touching and incredibly sad. The movie also can be seen as a commentary on politics—that nations often forget the painful events of the past, even though its citizens may be traumatized. Yet, both people and nations have to find a way to accept and move on.

After the movie, my husband and I went out for Chinese food. I craved steamed dumplings and tea, both featured in the movie. This was the “fortune” in my cookie.

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I don’t believe that a piece of paper in a cookie can predict my future, but it seemed a fitting note to end a week that had been spent haunting the house of history, catching a glimmer of the ghosts of the past, and storing them for the future.

“What the next generation will value most is not what we owned, but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we lived. In the end, it’s the family stories that are worth the storage.”

–Ellen Goodman