my granny: medicine woman

March 1, 2014 § 2 Comments

Preface

This is a story about my maternal grandmother. Granny was born poor and died poor, yet had a heart overflowing with love, a spirit that soared higher than the heavens, and a deep, quiet source within from which sprang abundant courage.  

Granny was five years old when she traveled across the Atlantic Ocean from Austria to America in 1899. She was not schooled but taught herself to read, write, and speak fluent English. When I was old enough to understand the spoken word, I never detected a hint of an accent though I knew Granny spoke Russian, Polish, and German in addition to her mastery of the English language.

The new images presented throughout this narrative are not of her, or the times and places of events shared. Sadly, these were lost in the innumerable decades of the past. Nevertheless, these winter scenes, recently photographed during our successive snowstorms (taken in the historic Village of Athens, New York where I live), kindled cherished memories of a remarkable woman.

The Snow

When the snow falls, I remember her the most. Everything smells the same. The scent of snow emanates from crystalline water cradled in the wombs of steel gray clouds, as nature stands poised for the right moment to birth juicy, white flakes. Wood smoke emerges from wood stoves and fireplaces, wafting through the air from known but also unknown places with untold stories. And, as the snow begins its descent it gently burdens the limbs of trees while sketching outlines of ordinary things normally overlooked. The elusive cardinal, like Baryshnikov, flies from limb to limb with ease and grace; grave sites and possibly haunted mausoleums in old cemeteries are christened and warmed in a pure white blanket of snow at the hour when dusk makes its entrance; and when the snow comes to rest on the forest floor, it fashions a serene, ethereal landscape in which it seems no living being has ever inhabited. Yes, this is the time, when the snow falls, I remember her the most.

Snow Falls in Forest No. 2 Copyright 2014 Lee Anne Morgan

Snow Falls in Forest No. 2
Copyright 2014
Lee Anne Morgan

Cleveland, Ohio circa 1948

Trolley car tracks carved serpentine patterns into the streets of the northeast Cleveland, Ohio neighborhood where my grandmother lived. As I plodded along the snow-covered cobblestone walk to my Granny’s house and stepped on to the wide-planked wooden front porch, I stamped the snow from my boots and slipped them off before entering her living room through the dark oak entrance door inset with an etched oval glass pane. I passed through the mahogany arch into the dining room and walked a long hallway that led to my grandmother’s sanctuary: her kitchen.

There were few things that thrilled me more as a child than the many aromas sent forth from the kitchen where Granny performed the healing of souls through her culinary arts. Sixty-five years later, the mere thought of her homemade Scottish shortbread comprised of those simple but decadent ingredients of creamed butter, sugar, and carefully sifted flour baking in her Franklin wood cook-stove, spark a memory I hold dear: She offers me her large, well-used wooden spoon — the one that stirred so much in so many bowls and belonged to her mother and her mother before her. I lick the last remnants of sweet, grainy dough: the embryonic essence of the shortbread.

Snow Tree Copyright 2014 Lee Anne Morgan

Snow Tree
Copyright 2014
Lee Anne Morgan

Granny was a force of love, offering warmth and light in my life as a child and young woman.  She had a salty sense of humor, was whimsical, irreverent, and flirtatious. Ironically though, she was also a devout Roman Catholic and prayed three Rosaries daily. She added a fourth Rosary one fine summer’s day after releasing through her kitchen window a particularly nasty, noisy bird — a gift that Grandpa Joe brought home for her that past Easter. So, not unlike an accordion, she added and subtracted Rosaries to her daily prayer routine. This depended on whether she thought she failed, or succeeded, with the Lord that day, hoping that the Blessed Mother would intercede for her. While her faith sustained her to a point, she was most serene when preparing and serving a meal. Her Austrian, Polish, and Russian heritages created a culinary alchemy for delicacies still not well known to too many people: liver dumplings and soup, which took two days to prepare — and, her unsurpassed perogi.

Photographed through window, screen, and snow.

Finally, The Cardinal
Copyright 2014
Lee Anne Morgan

For the uninitiated, a perogi artfully created is a spiritual experience. Granny’s perogies were perfectly round pouches, three inches in diameter, of carefully rolled dough filled with pure ecstasies for one’s palate.  My favorite filling was Farmer’s cheese that she seasoned with salt, pepper, a hint of sugar, thinly chopped onion and a beaten egg to hold the mixture together. She would also fill these round orbs of dough with prunes, or sauerkraut with caraway seed, or a pungent meat mixture.

1800s Mausoleum  Athens Rural Cemetery Copyright 2014 Lee Anne Morgan

1800s Mausoleum
Athens Rural Cemetery
Copyright 2014
Lee Anne Morgan

So, I sat watching this artist at her work as she gathered the many and varied ingredients needed to begin the painting of her particular canvas. The food: flour, spices, sugar, meats, cheese, prunes, potatoes, cabbage, green peppers, onions, eggs, butter, salt and pepper.  The tools: a rolling pin, flour sifter, potato masher, meat grinder, one large rimmed glass three inches in diameter, waxed paper, rubber bands, cleaned (and ironed) kitchen towels, mixing bowls — all six of them in graduated sizes but not matching, Granny’s largest black iron cauldron in which to boil water and her large iron skillet, more waxed paper, and … the Wooden Spoon.

The last task to complete before the cooking process was set in motion was the preparation of the large, square white enameled kitchen table. Granny wiped it spotlessly clean. She then removed her thin gold wedding band, and put on a fresh, crisply ironed apron.  Finally, she would place the kitchen stool at the table for herself and remove all but one of the six chairs. The concession of the one chair was for me. Granny wanted no encumbrances around the table when she prepared perogi. But, I was her honored guest.

Garage Closed Copyright 2014 Lee Anne Morgan

Garage Closed
Copyright 2014
Lee Anne Morgan

For Granny, the perogi event was a journey. To the five-year-old girl sitting at her table, mesmerized by the unfolding of this grand performance, it was the end result that counted most.  Granny stored many of the pierogi in her short, square icebox for eating at our holiday dinner. But, she reserved a few to be consumed immediately and I had my choice.  I could simply eat the perfection of her perogi as they emerged from the boiling water in the black wrought iron cauldron, now front and center on the stove, tossed with butter, salt and pepper. Or, she would turn to the large iron skillet into which she slathered even more butter and slowly sautéed the perogi to a light, golden brown.  The skillet sizzled and spat when the perogies were placed into it but it soon settled. The result was a transcendent experience. The ingredients of butter, salt, lightly fried dough, and a spicy-yet-sweet cheese and onion filling, were all interdependent: one single ingredient could no longer exist in this exquisite state without the other.

Photographed as the sun set.

Untold Stories
1800s Grave Sites
Athens Rural Cemetery
Copyright 2014
Lee Anne Morgan

Cleveland, Ohio circa 1956

My grandmother cooked for all occasions: birthdays, graduations, births, communions, confirmations, holidays, colds and flu, and for no reason at all but for the pure pleasure of creating and healing. (The latter being a result of her genuine efforts and not a conscious goal.)

Granny also put on her apron and took to the stove during times of great sorrow, the most vivid of which for me was when her husband, my Grandpa Joe, succumbed to lung cancer resulting from his many years of work in the coal mines of Ohio.

For Grandpa Joe Snow in Forest No. 2 Copyright 2014 Lee Anne Morgan

(For Grandpa Joe)
Snow Falls in Forest No. 1
Copyright 2014
Lee Anne Morgan

After leaving the sterile smells and bleak atmosphere of the hospital, I knew her thoughts were only of her husband, friend, lover, and nemesis at times, as she walked into her now empty home. Granny had to be thinking that Grandpa Joe would walk through the door at any moment. Freshly brewed coffee as well as his much loved beer with a raw egg floating in it should be at the ready. (Grandpa Joe was a tippler.) As she entered her kitchen, she reached into a small closet for her apron and wrapped it around her plump waist. I stood watching not knowing what to say or do. I too felt the raw sense of loss and emptiness. I saw Granny withdraw a hand-embroidered cotton handkerchief from her dress pocket to wipe the tears that finally surfaced and trickled down her face. She then turned to me following the long silence and said,  “I absolutely must make a pot of chicken soup with homemade noodles.”  And so she did.

Legacies

My memories are eternal reminders that the contentment of Granny’s open heart, consisting of simple, elegant acts of love and work, was far more important than any luxury and wealth that she would never know, or desire.

Granny’s riches were in her calloused, square hands, her thick strong arms that could roll dough for great lengths of time without tiring, and her intuitive sense of touch, taste and innate sensitivity to what was good, or not. Creating culinary delights was in joyful service of others and emanated from her authentic spirit. This was her art form as well as her medicine and it could not be captured or repressed. Not even my grandfather’s death could accomplish that. Her unwavering inner spirit, even in the saddest moments, are legacies of great wealth that have sustained me and continue to enrich my life today.

The Book of Abbey

Abbey, introduced in my previous Journal post, has grown to be a constant friend and companion. She is at the entrance door when I arrive home, and greets me upon waking in the morning with a soft purr, offering her plush, silky fur for my hands to gently pet and scratch. She is coquettish in her playfulness and yet a tigress — all seven pounds of feminine feline form. With a reverberating purr, she walks delicately across my computer keyboard when I have been too long at the screen for she seems to know I need a break. I have, thus far, discovered that she does two things really, really well: sleep and meditate with my crystals.

Abbey Sleeps. Again. Copyright 2014 Lee Anne Morgan

Abbey Sleeps. Again.
Copyright 2014
Lee Anne Morgan 

Please. Do Not Disturb. Copyright 2014 Lee Anne Morgan

Please. Do Not Disturb.
Copyright 2014
Lee Anne Morgan

Portrait at Window Copyright 2014 Lee Anne Morgan

Portrait at Window
Copyright 2014
Lee Anne Morgan

 
Just to be is a blessing.
Just to live is holy.
~Rabbi Abraham Heschel
 

With the deepest gratitude, I thank you for spending this time with me, sharing my memories of a wonderful grandmother, viewing my latest impressionist painterly images and following the Book of Abbey, which will grow with time.

Blessings and Namasté …

LAM 1st Name:Sm

§ 2 Responses to my granny: medicine woman

  • Arthur Anderson says:

    Its a beautiful piece. I especially enjoyed the pirogi process part and the red cardinal photo delightfully shocked me when I first saw it. You are a very talented writer and with your blog have found the medium that suits you best! Thanks for doing and much love, Arthur

  • Absolutely lovely. Thank you for sharing such lovely stories and so happy to see little Abbey doing so well.

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