As a kid, I always knew my grandmother loved me. After all, she told me that every time I visited her on Saturday afternoons. She lived in Queens, NY, and we’d visit after sitting through 5 long hours of Lithuanian school in Brooklyn every Saturday morning.
By the time we got to my grandmother’s house, it was mid-afternoon, and I was starving. She’d greet me with a smile and a kiss on the forehead, and she’d proudly put a plate full of koldūnai (Lithuanian pierogis, usually stuffed with meat instead of potatoes or sauerkraut, and way better) in front of me, steam rising off the freshly-boiled koldūnai, with spirgučiai (fried bacon and onion bits) generously sprinkled on top, and a dollop of sour cream on the side.
There were times when I could eat 20 of them. However many I had, it seemed that she still had more, and I never thought for a moment about where they came from. I guess I knew that she made them, but I never really thought about what that meant.
Now I cook for my 8-year-old daughter, and the other day, she asked for one of her favorite dishes: ham and cheese croquettes. It’s a long and messy process to make them: boiling and mashing potatoes, chopping up slabs of ham, grating piles of cheddar cheese, mincing onions. Then rolling the croquette filling in flour, egg and breadcrumbs before frying them.
Whether I make six or sixty, the kitchen is trashed afterwards, so I went with the larger number…62, to be exact. (They freeze well.)
It’s not hard work, but it’s tedious. After making 30 croquettes, my back was aching from standing hunched over the kitchen counter. And I was only half done. I tried pulling up a stool, but that didn’t help, so I popped a few ibuprofen and kept going, finally frying that last croquette, turning the heat off the oil, and standing back to see a kitchen counter covered in egg, flour, breadcrumbs, and mashed potatoes. The cooking was done but the cleanup was just beginning.
My daughter stepped off the school bus at the end of the driveway, and I greeted her with a kiss on the forehead, telling her I loved her. We walked back to the house, and I asked her about her day, all the time knowing that I had a special treat waiting for her that I couldn’t wait to show her.
We walked into the house and she saw the trays of croquettes. I placed a couple of them on a plate and she sat down, eyes wide open, and took her first crunchy bite. The heartfelt “Mmmmm” that came from deep inside her gave me a real sense of satisfaction. My hours of work had paid off with one simple bite. Few things could’ve made me happier at that moment than the smile on her face.
And then I thought of my grandmother.
What I did that day, she did for me every Saturday without fail. And she was a lot older than I am now.
She loved me, alright. Funny how it took almost 40 more years for me to realize just how much.