I want to talk more about my memories of my Baba (grandmother). In a previous post I wrote about my impressions of the robust health of my Baba. This was my maternal grandmother and the only grandmother that I was able to spend time with personally. I was not fortunate enough to have met my paternal grandmother as she spent her life behind the Iron Curtain of the USSR and died shortly before communism eased off. What I do know of her leads me to believe that she also had a strong constitution and good health until late in her life.
My maternal Baba was my hero when I was growing up and I guess she still is. She was so solid and competent. From my little eyes there was nothing that she was not capable of doing. Although it sometimes involved hard work I loved spending time with her soaking up her wisdom and her vitality.
As a family we would go to visit her for a weekend several times a year. My three aunts and their families would often join us. When we arrived at her place late on a Friday night, my Baba would greet us with a large pot of freshly prepared chicken noodle soup that she had made in between tending the customers in her General Store. This soup was to die for! The vegetables came from her garden and the chicken was definitely organic free range. The pieces de résistance were the home made noodles. I am salivating as I write this! I always had two or three bowls regardless of what time of night we arrived. As an adult I have often wondered how she had managed to make enough to feed the onslaught of some twelve to fifteen family guests and still allow me to have my excessive quantity. I think I remember that there was other food available as well but I was completely taken by the soup and paid little attention to the potatoes, fried chicken and carrots and peas.
That meal was only the beginning. The rest of the weekend would be filled with one meal and activity after another. It was a busy place and I remember it as pure fun. As if the group of us visiting was not enough the meals usually included other people from the town, either other relatives or the individuals who lived in the town but who had no other family. There were a few people who eventually became part of the family. One individual in particular spent enough time with our family that some of us thought he was an uncle.
Most of us learned some cooking skills from Baba and all of us, both genders and all ages, developed our dish washing skills. I have very fond memories of the laughs we had doing the dishes yet again and just in time to set the table for the next meal.
We spent the weekend at her place and somehow all four families were able to find space to sleep for the two nights of the visit and we all shared one bathroom for the entire weekend. It worked just fine. We learned about cooperation in sharing that one bathroom and the living space in general. We learned about respect for the behaviours of the different personalities that made up the collective. We also learned about conflict and saw the strength and sense of fairness that my Baba had in resolving disputes that did arise. We learned how to be with and play with people of all ages. The cousins (all thirteen of us eventually) learned a lot about each other and developed solid connections that have remained strong until this day. The plays we put on for the adults were brilliant or at least we thought they were at the time.
All this was happening under the watchful eye and with the astonishing organizational skills of none other than my Baba. It was amazing. Looking back I now very clearly understand why at around 9 or 10 PM when Baba would finally sit down with us to watch whatever was on television (one channel, no DVD, no iNothing) she would only make it a few minutes before her eyes would shut. We kids would chuckle as she tried to stay awake to no avail. Now I get it and I am not sure I would have lasted that long. She had stamina.
As young children we would all eagerly await our special visit at Ukrainian Christmas when we would all be presented with new cosy flannelette pyjamas sewn by Baba. They always fit each one of us perfectly making me, even at a young age, marvel at how she was so accurate at guessing each of our sizes. The pjs were a special gift and memory.
As we reached the age of majority and we were able we would join the adults at the Hotel bar on Saturday night. The gang would have a beer or two and play shuffleboard or just shoot the breeze. That was until Baba marched down the hill, walked into the bar (usually with rollers in her hair) and ordered all of us home so we could get some sleep and be up and ready for church service first thing Sunday morning. It was fascinating to see everyone, old adults and young adults, jump to their feet and make it back up the hill to go to bed.
The next morning we would miraculously all get up in time to have a little bite to eat, have our quick moment in the bathroom and make it to church for mass. Don’t think that Baba slacked off at church. No she was the person who would answer the mass in her swift and efficient way. I did not like it when for one reason or another someone else would take over that role. Mass was always so much longer.
I liked it when we would walk home to Baba’s house. It was another chance to play, run around and have fun before we got back into the meal preparation and clean up that would start all over again. The feasting would continue until it was time to go home. When her General Store was still functioning each of the kids would be given a paper lunch bag and allowed to put some treats in it to take home. My love of chocolate if not already firmly entrenched was heavily reinforced. We would pack up and begin the long trek home. This was probably the only time that I fell asleep in the car, much to my parents’ delight. It gave them a reprieve from the questions and general chatter about this that and the other thing that I typically engaged in during car rides. I am convinced that as I slept I reviewed everything I had learned from marvelling at my Baba over the weekend and integrated as much as possible into my way of approaching life.
Spending time with my Baba during the summer was even better and there is a lot more to say about that.
Irene McDermott © 2012