There was a sea of madness surrounding me or maybe I was the sea.
Then morning, how still, how white, how blue, how beautiful it all was.
Why did I go and buy all those flowers the last minute on Saturday… white hyacinths, blue hyacinths and a big bunch of yellow daffodils in a pot. Because there weren’t enough daffodils in the garden, or hyacinths. There are never enough flowers…
Even after six days of shopping, cooking, baking and cleaning, there was still too much to do and I made everyone work. Peeling potatoes, wiping spots off glasses and dishes, chopping pickles, mixing sour cream and yogurt for the dressing. Chopping shallots. Cleaning strawberries…. We forgot the mayonnaise in the salad and it was all done already. There in the big blue and white Italian bowl that I bought for one dollar from a wealthy neighbor. Such a beautiful bowl. I would never sell it. Not for a dollar. The one with the sea shells on it.. from Jean, who is now living by the actual sea far away…..
I always make the potato salad last so that it is only slightly warm, the dressing light and creamy with just a hint of coolness. Finely chopped celery, scallions, and even the paprika was already on top. But we forgot the mayo. Maybe because by 4:00 p.m. we already had too much of the Sauvignon Blanc, which I especially bought to go with the asparagus saffron soup. We were already finishing the bottle…. You wanted to just drop the gobs of mayo in but I said ‘ no no no.’ We must take a small scoop of potato salad and mix it with just a few tablespoons of mayo and put it all back in as though we remembered. Sneak it in. Furtive. Secret. As though the potato salad didn’t know. Then we forgot the sweet pickles, that have to be chopped very fine, almost minced, but not to a mush….
I love those sweet bread and butter pickles and started eating them out of the jar like potato chips. Ellen said she loved them too and her mother put up dozens of jars when she was growing up. On a farm. In Iowa. That’s where I wish I was, on a farm just waking up and smelling the air… but they would throw me out because I could never get anything ready on time….They had their own pickles and corn, cucumbers, potatoes, all kinds of berries– strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, even gooseberries… and lettuces, sweet fresh chartreuse tiny lettuce… zucchini, tomatoes, eggplants, onions, garlic, squash and watermelons… I dream of farms like I dream of cowboys, clean streams and air…..
I had to stop eating the sweet pickles that were starting to ferment in my stomach with the Sauvignon Blanc…..There was still the other salad to make– tangerines, red onion, arugula and fennel… I had to make it very quickly, I was running so late…
Earlier you had asked if you could take the bowl of potatoes and peel them in the garden… because the garden was greening the buds firming, birds singing, the white trees starting….some of the leaves already fully formed, speckles of real life, small elongated leaves that could actually ruffle in the wind…. the earth was letting out the dampness from all those weeks of rain, that was now coming out in small whiffs of perfume…that perfume you can never explain never name you have to just go down and crawl around on the ground to smell it like the robins now burying their beaks in the earth looking for worms….oh to be a robin just looking for worms…. The serviceberries had tiny oval buds like sunflower seeds, the other one was blushing pink…
“No, you cannot go in the garden to peel the potatoes” I said… as though I didn’t have enough work to do and then have to go and get the potatoes from the garden and find another bowl for the peels which I am sure you would drop all over the grass …..though my mother did that probably, in Ukraine, peel potatoes outdoors, while the freshly washed sheets floated like holy ghosts in the wildflower wind…….. I grated the horseradish in the garden… Good Friday…. so very warm, almost 80 and windy.. and the gardener came unexpectedly and made so much noise for a Good Friday…. While he was out weeding, seeding and mowing I was grating the horseradish on an old-fashioned grater, feeling rather happy, rather free, then feeling ashamed that we were making so much noise on Good Friday…..But the garden has to be beautiful for Easter Sunday.
This morning though. What a morning. The earth slept and woke up calm again, after three days weeping… How would you feel if people were staring at their iPhones while you were being crucified? The woman sitting in front of me at church, was staring at her iPhone that Friday night … she sang along with the choir and shocked me with the beauty of her singing.. her voice like an angel…. then she would stop during the reflections and check her e-mails……. I tried so hard to concentrate.. but spent a lot of time wondering how my babkas would taste and if they were too dry…. it started raining during mass and I walked home in the warm rainy night alone while everyone dashed anxiously into their waiting cars…..I felt a little something, heard a little something…. smelled the great sky exploding.. sensed something holier than I had a right to feel see and hear….
How cloudy white how terribly old how way too fast everything is budding, like a million multicolored balloons everywhere….. flowering bridal wreaths already…. all of May’s white crabs, pears and dogwoods blooming. Even the pink ones starting… the forsythia is so confused it decided to stay….I haven’t even started my spring reveries and the time for reveries is over……
But early this morning when I went out, disheveled, asleep, debauched, unkempt, wrinkled, old and tired There it was Dylan Thomas’ “.. spellbound horses walking warm Out of the whinnying green stable….” the garden… the misty ghostly garden that more and more is like a fading dream going forever from these promised lands….
There was also the moon. We spoke of the moon all night long. That woman in the moon with lips pursed, sometimes a wobbly O in astonishment, or maybe she was just smelling the flowers in her midnight garden…
Tight buds everywhere like chubby brides popping out of their wedding dress.
And my two trees, they were hurried on by the heat almost drenched in the white froth and then they just froze like the lady in the moon. They stood like elongated pears bursting inside with some secret fragrant nectar, tipping into the whiteness into the misty shrouds, the fog of flowers… drinking in long draughts of cool air like water….
The ants came out just as I was finishing the salad. Why did they come out just then, why? You said that ants seem clean. Yes, they do seem clean I always thought that too. Sometimes when I’m cooking if I get one or two on my hands or in the salad plate and I accidentally eat them I don’t mind. But when you are having an Easter dinner and the sink and counters are crawling with hundreds of ants they don’t seem very clean… the worst part is you have to go and start killing a lot of things just before you sit down to eat….
Why did they come out just then? Why is the world so deeply green why is the river gushing out of my house why am I always in the middle of Noah’s flood why can’t I be the whale that got away… the whale not being always slaughtered but floating far away instead of drowning in the ocean’s blood?
Guests come and gone, laughter, wine, and sparkling water, Arancina and clementine Italian soda….. there were no hors’ d’oeuvres it is not traditional to do hors d’oeuvres for Ukrainian Easter….but they probably wished there had been hors d’ oeuvres.. just a little something because some people had gotten up at 4:00 a.m. to read and study and dress and be at church… we couldn’t care less about that we were too busy guzzling all the wine…..
There were babkas (a bit dry and there was not enough grated orange rind… though I put in two oranges worth…. I should have put in orange juice like my cousin said…..) .. There was sweet butter and Brie, beet-horseradish relish, asparagus soup with saffron, and ham, a big gorgeous juicy ham from some bucolic Wisconsin town, potato salad, harissa-maple syrup roasted carrots with caramelized lemons, French green bean salad..sausages … big plump garlicky sausages but I cheated and got them from Trader Joe’s instead of that upscale butcher who lied to me about nitrates and gave me a lecture one day on how everything has nitrates…. I took the casings off and fried the sausages and they got golden sizzling brown almost crispy and left pools of fat all over the pan..
It was all good but not good enough… there was Ukrainian modern (modern meaning less work) cheesecake with strawberries… I was going to cook them to make a strawberry sauce, but my sister said not to cook them but to sprinkle them with a little sugar to release the juice. It worked. They almost tasted like real strawberries, but no not really, not like the strawberries my grandmother ate…..
That Moroccan carrot dish would have been fabulous but I cooked it four hours early and got distracted when I was complaining to you about all the work.. I pulled it out just in time but the lemons were charred.. almost black. Then I put it in the oven to warm and forgot about it again when I was frantically making a last minute salad… they were ruined, but one of the guests liked it the best and asked for the recipe… my Ukrainian Easter dinner was not a real Ukrainian Easter dinner. I cheated at every twist and turn, but in the end it’s always about Mama. She’s not here anymore. There is no Ukrainian Easter without Mama.
You told me that you saw all the families in the old neighborhood walking by with their Easter baskets Saturday, walking to church. All dressed up, polished, brushed and gleaming. The baskets full of Babkas and paskas decorated with flowers, birds and braids… pysanky.. those intricate Easter eggs… I still have a dish of them from Aunt Irene and forgot to take them out. Forgetting something that basic that Ukrainian! I took them out at the last minute and hurriedly placed them on the buffet. No one even noticed them in the last minute chaos..
I see them now walking to church, the real Ukrainians….. and smell the fragrant yeast raised breads so yolky golden, some with 30 eggs… the real Ukrainian sausages from that grouchy old butcher, butter with delicate etchings of flowers and herbs, magenta beets, long sausages curled up like anacondas….the embroidered cloths from someone’s baba in Ukraine.. some still have their mamas and babas and papas…. the incense.. how I miss the incense at 4:00 a.m. at the old Ukrainian cathedral and coming home with Mama and you.. icy cold vodka at 8:30 a.m.. How hungry we were! How sleepy! How grateful! How bracing and fiery the vodka was and how Mom’s cheeks glowed… How delicious was that holy babka of hers and only now, fourteen years later, do I know.
Then 11:00 p.m. food all put away, suddenly a deafening silence everywhere…. I walked outside for a moment and saw I think a full moon, I think I saw some stars… Ten or twenty stars, maybe thirty if I looked hard at this 21st century sky.. and went back inside almost collapsing on the chair… flowers everywhere.. yellow alstroemerias surrounded by huge Casablanca lilies about to open… the sun surrounded by snow, egg yolks swaddled in their shells,. There were bouquets of daffodils everywhere quietly exuding secret scents of longing in tiny puffs of baby’s breath…… I told my neighbor next door that daffodils smell nice and Saturday afternoon we walked around all the daffodils in the garden and stuck our faces in them…. we smelled licorice, lemon, orange, tarragon, mint, someone’s icy apple breath, …. I remembered my mother and how one late spring she walked me around her garden introducing me to all the pansies and touching their little blue and purple heads to show me their faces….
The radio in the kitchen was on all evening and this year all the music was sublime… “Fur Elise”, ” Clair de Lune”, Chopin Etudes even the rain one .. old recordings of Paderewski playing…. and then Bach and the low voices of the FM radio announcers like a kindly doctor telling you you’re going to die …
I thought I felt thunder smelled lightening but it was the strong dizzying scent of the Easter lilies opening up just then during a Bach cantata.. just for me, just for me in that sad and terrifying confusion… because something was missing all night long… all week long… something was lost and something was running away and something was closing all the doors and something was trying to open all the windows but couldn’t get in… and something was banging again all night long and something was calling and I didn’t answer…the house still smelled of wax and candle smoke.. the scent of lilies overpowering and the Bach cantata almost roaring through the empty smoking rooms, while the White Trees outside were getting more white more ghostly more beautiful and I could feel them swaying to the music glowing under the moonlight drinking from the heavenly waters falling from the sky…