Christmas at The Cross Border House
I made too many lasagnas. Three too many to be exact. I could have stopped with the three I made on the Thursday ahead of Christmas Day and spared myself the outburst on Friday when I approached the kitchen assuming I’d have a square meter of space in which to work, even willing to settle for half that, when there she was, the cause of my misery, spread out over the entire kitchen. There wasn’t room enough to pour a glass of milk; each countertop had been taken over by her mass production of fried breads stuffed with leftover potatoes. (Honestly, it’s as if she’s anticipating the Polish Army to sally through on their way to the border.) And two days before Christmas.
I stormed out of the kitchen. I wrote to a dear friend of mine that very same day, damning the whole affair. “She reminds me of that nursery rhyme about the magic porridge pot that would yield its porridge only upon the command ‘little pot boil’ and finish when you said, ‘little pot stop.’ But if you forgot how to stop it, as was the moral and point of the nursery rhyme, when the little girl forgot the witch’s instructions, porridge overflowed from the pot, filling up the house, spilling out of the windows into the street in an endless, unstoppable stream throughout the town and into the villages.”
Where was my Christmas spirit? There were many things on my list I’d yet to strike off. There was the Apteka. I needed to buy enough children’s medicines to see us through the holidays. We needed extra blankets and towels. We needed soap, toothpaste, basic hygienic items in case families coming from Ukraine needed anything. I could run those errands while waiting for space in the kitchen. I didn’t need to put myself on show like that just because I didn’t get my way.
Twenty-two women in a kitchen. Is that the equivalent of how many angels can dance on the head of pin? Maybe not. Let’s not exaggerate our optimism.
If one is prepared for the psychological impact of living within a community of those whom you know not, then marvelous discoveries about yourself are likely.
The honest truth about ‘my misery’ is she’s actually a lot like me. Or at least like I was. She has a son who is very sick. At one time, my son was also very sick and at risk of dying. She feels alone. She’s a big personality. She feeds people. It’s a feeding instinct that sets up in the body either from a lack of one’s own sufficient emotional nourishment in childhood or from years of scarcity. It can manifest as the devouring mother, but I simply call it ‘the feeder.’
As I said, I can see her in my reflection. I remember carrying what she carries. This softens me to her and helps me not judge her so harshly.
(P.S. She does make the most amazing pastries filled with a kind of farmers cheese and just a hint of raisins or currants that are lightly fried in oil which are truly out of this world!)
Wigilia (Polish Christmas Eve) welcomed a table of twelve fish dishes and salads galore…plus fried bread stuffed with leftover potatoes. Paul explained the Polish tradition of sharing Opłatek, which began with thin wafers blessed by the priest. Each person receives their own wafer. As we approach each other, we break the wafer and express our good wishes as we pass the piece to them to eat. This is our ritual before sitting down to the table. What struck me was how unreserved we all were in our personal greetings as we all wished each other love. It was truly extraordinary. Not an experience I’ve ever had before. A feeling of tremendous love among people I didn’t really know very well despite living together for nearly a year.
After Opłatek, confusion ensued because in Ukraine one starts with compote and kutia. Compote is a warm blend of dried fruits and brandy. Kutia is made from poppy seeds and honey. It’s all so delicious but the Poles start with Barszcz, beetroot soup with uszka (tiny dumplings). We managed to combine these two cultural traditions without too much fuss.
Christmas Day. Too many lasagnas. Chicken, potatoes and all things leftover from Christmas Eve. Another feast of sharing stories and lots and lots of laughter.