Tasting My Childhood – Elaina Portugal
My kitchen counters are covered in flour and the temperature in the kitchen must be ten degrees warmer than the rest of the house. Poluski, polish potato dumplings, are rolled on the counter and water boils on the stove awaiting the next batch. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” croons from my speakers; a favorite song until my son had me read the lyrics without music. Now I call it the Harvey Weinstein Christmas song. Still, it makes me think of my grandmother’s huge kitchen radiator and Christmas Day at her house. She always had fried poluski and sour cream, a family favorite.
The last year we spent Christmas with my grandma and my dad’s side of the family, I had on my brand new rabbit fur coat and a new purple velour shirt and matching plaid skirt. I felt grown up in my nylons and modest heels. I knew the gifts were generous since my dad was sick and not working. I loved them all the more. I swirled into the kitchen, my skirt floating around me. My grandmother greeted me, apron on, wiping her wet hands on a towel, and told me I’d gotten fat. I remember the huge gulp of air and how it hurt my chest going down. My uncle wrapped me in his arms and told me I was sexy. I curled in a bit tighter as he shimmied his shoulders against mine and gave me a big, wet kiss.
Dinner was about ready. Turkey, bread stuffing, gravy, poluski, and so much more. I couldn’t wait. We sat down and I dug in, loading my plate with all of my holiday favorites. I popped a poluski in my mouth as I passed the plate and caught my grandmother staring at me, shaking her head. I stopped chewing, the dumpling seemed to expand in my mouth. Again I gulped. The lump of potato and flour moved like a rock as it descended. I smirked at her and stopped short of sticking out my tongue.
My dad died the next year and we never spent Christmas with them again. Actually we didn’t spend any time with them after he died. We became inconsequential. It was as if we didn’t exist any longer.
The buzzer sounds and it’s time to drain this year’s dumplings. My youngest helped make the potatoes. My husband helped roll the dough. I pop one in my mouth, hot from the water, and close my eyes. They’re soft and squishy before they’re fried. Slightly salty, a nice dose of black pepper, and I’m transported back to that last Christmas at grandma’s house and I can feel the weight of loss for the want of things I’d never had.
This is the first year we will be spending Christmas at home in North Carolina. Even though I’ll be headed to Chicago the day after, Christmas will be spent away from my daughter, granddaughters, sisters, brother, and mother. It’s my first Christmas without them. My heart is heavy.
My candied orange peels and cinnamon nuts are almost done. These are new traditions. My kitchen smells of oranges and cinnamon, and steam covers the microwave door as cooled water drips down and sizzles on the stove top. I pop another poluski in my mouth, savoring the texture, tucking away my memories. I pack a bag of them and write “Chicago” on the outside. I’ll take them with me and I’ll pack nuts and candied orange peels as well. New tastes for new traditions, my granddaughters will remember oranges and cinnamon.
I feel the weight of one extra day, but I smile in anticipation.
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To read more of Elaina’s letters, click here.