• Jørn Earl Otte

"What I Learned From My Grandmother"

What I Learned from my Grandmother

If there was bread in the breadbox, there was food for guests.

When I sat on the white kitchen countertop and watched her work,

the smell of chicken with hints of basil and oregano frying on the stovetop,

the warm sunshine smell of cornbread baking in the iron skillet,

the flick of the single limp pasta noodle against the cutting board

to see if it was al dente,

I was like an apprentice

watching the painter put the final blue stroke on the ocean wave on the canvas.

At eight years of age, I would mimic her moves,

stirring with my imaginary spoon

the empty air inside my empty bowl

holding the promise of bread dough or chocolate pudding

or chili or macaroni and tomato sauce.

Her hazel eyes sparkling as she explained

to me a teaspoon and tablespoon,

brushed her silver gray hair away from her forehead,

the sweat of cooking all day for seven people dripping

softly onto the back of her wrinkled hand.

There was flour dusting the side of the wall behind the counter,

crumbs and herbs on the floor by the stove. Grannie

smiled at me as she picked up a bright green cucumber

out of the wicker basket

on the small wooden table in the corner of the kitchen,

near the cracked and spackled white back door that led to their backyard.

She told me that Gramps’ cucumbers

picked fresh from their garden

tasted to her like Spring time and youth

and about the way Gramps used to take her hand

when they would go roller skating on Friday nights after the war.

Outside of their kitchen window, which sat overtop the porcelain sink,

was a hummingbird feeder, and as Grannie began to peel the cucumber,

throwing the green slices into a bowl for a salad, she said,

“Oh, sweetie, look,”

and pointed with the small pocket knife out toward the feeder,

where two small black hummingbirds drank

the sweet red homemade sugar nectar from the plastic blossoms.

Only eight-years-old, I didn't realize that I was making a solemn vow:

to never forget the smell of Grannie's fried chicken, or cornbread,

to never forget Gramps' cucumbers, and the way he smelled after mowing,

to remember always the gentle touch of a flour-covered wrinkled palm, to remember her hand softly laying on the back of my neck

as I turned to see the hummingbirds take their never-ending sips,

while the boiling water splashed slightly over the edge of the bowl,

signaling that the noodles would soon be finished.

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