Excited to share the first story on the blog from Kristina G. Do share any comments, responses or reflections below!
Before I tell you this story, you must promise me you will never ever tell my – grandma.
You see, I am a writer, and my uncle is a writer too. And my grandma, or my uncle’s mum, is such an interesting person that you can’t resist using her as a character in your writing. That’s what we writers do. But my grandma was very angry after my uncle published a novel in which she recognised herself and accused him of inventing childhood traumas. So, when many years later I started writing, and used her as a character in my play, she said “No more!“ and both my uncle and me had to promise not to do it again.
But now I am in England and I am writing this story in a language that my grandma can’t understand. She lives in a small village in Croatia, far away. Nevertheless, I want you to promise me you won’t call her or send her a translated version of this story and that this is our little secret.
And the story goes…
Once upon a time there was a little village close to the forest. And in that little village there was a house that everybody knew about and that was because, from that particular house, magnificent smells were spreading every day; chocolate cakes, apple pies, vanilla biscuits, almonds and coconut desserts. And in that house, there lived a – witch! A real witch, just like from that story about Hansel and Gretel, but this witch was – my grandma!
Her witchcraft was cooking and her kitchen was a place of magic. Everybody used to call her a witch and I was the one to blame! Now, I don’t even remember the time that I called her one, but my whole family do and they assure me that yes, it really did happen.
Family is a tricky thing. They remember you from the time you were a kid and then, at family gatherings, they tell these once-upon-a-time stories just to make you embarrassed. So, we all know the story of the time my mum was chased by an invisible bear, or that story of when my uncle didn’t want to take icecream because he thought the man in the white coat was a doctor, or that story of when my sister was hiding a hamster in our apartment for weeks.
In the same way, everybody knew the story of how this sweet little granddaughter told her grandma she was a witch.
As I said, I don’t remember the event myself, but I will tell you the way they told me.
But to understand the story, you have to know that my grandma loves cooking. And for her, feeding her family is the purpose of life. Accordingly, she measures how much we love her by the amount of food we put in ourselves. I know, you will say it is a cliche, the loving grandma preparing food for her grandchildren, but very soon you will realise that she is not like other grandmas at all.
So, when I was around four years old and I went to visit her, she prepared me pancakes. But she didn’t prepare just a couple of them like any other grandma – oh no – she woke up early in the morning to bake at least a dozen. When I sat by the table she had put in front of me a plate full of hot pancakes, as well as melted chocolate, strawberry jam, walnuts, orange marmalade…anything she could find in her kitchen.
I really, really wanted to make her happy and proud. So I ate, and I ate and I ate. Until I finished the whole plate. I felt sick, but I felt proud. I only had enough strength to smile at her, my mouth covered with chocolate. But at that moment, she went away and came with another plate full of pancakes. My face changed and through tears I screamed, “You are a witch! You are a witch!”
Every time somebody tells this story, I feel embarrassed.
Grandma’s obsession with food grew and grew as the years passed by.
She had a special notebook in which she would write not just recipes, but also a list of our favourite dishes. So, if you once said you like her meat balls with gnocchi, then that’s exactly what you would get every time you visited. For lunch, she would prepare not just one meal, but at least a dozen. Big plates full of dry meat and cheese, olives, baked papers and pickled cucumbers. Then at least two soups – vegetable cream and chicken with noodles. After that, sarma, which is an especially heavy dish with minced meat in cabbage and tomato sauce. The main course would include at least four varieties of meat and two varieties of fish. And after all that you would think she’d stop, but no, she would bring a plate with fifteen different cakes and biscuits that she had prepared days ahead of our visit.
For my grandma, food was everything, the best thing you can give to people you love.
I will never forget when I had my first play in a professional theatre – my grandma came for the opening night with her little hat and red lipstick. After the performance, everybody was applauding, the whole creative team came to the stage, I was receiving a lot of flower bouquets. And then my grandma came to the stage and gave me a pack wrapped in white paper, but still everybody could recognise the shape – it was a massive, half metre-long sausage!
If you called her, her first question would not be “How are you?”, but “What did you eat?” If you came to visit her, she would not say “Nice to see you,” she would say “Again you lost some weight.“ She would not talk about politics or weather, but always food, food, food.
So, the last time I went to visit her, and we hadn’t seen each other for a really long time, I wanted to tell her all about England and my writing and all the news. But she was constantly in the kitchen, bringing me one dish after another, telling me constantly “Eat, eat more. You lost a lot of weight in England.” I wanted to make her happy but I was stuffed! Finally, when she came with a plate full of pancakes, I got really tired and angry. I shouted at her “Stop! Just stop! Why are you so obsessed with food!?”
She stood there in silence, I could just sense her back in that moment when I told her she was a witch. But back then I was four and it was a cute little story for family gatherings. Now I am an adult and I am shouting at my grandma.
She sat next to me and said “I am too old to be changed. I will tell you something, life is not a fairy tale. Once upon a time, I lived in a village even smaller than this one. And my family was so poor that we only had one real meal per day which was always potatoes and cabbage. There is one dish I never served you, there is one special taste I never want you try. And that is hunger.“
She stood up and went to wash the dishes.
I was sitting there quietly.
I finished my pancake and went to the kitchen to give my grandma a kiss.