by Siegfried Haug

“Your Manchurian ancestors,” my grandmother said, “when they were lucky enough to come across a flock of turkeys were overjoyed. Positively overjoyed.” She looked up from stirring her pot.

It never occurred to me — towheaded southern German farm boy — to question her sketchy family tree.

She wiped long-fingered hands on her blue-plaid apron after banking the wood in the cooking fire. Turning toward me slightly, Oma, as I called her, held up a wooden spoon, one of my grandfather’s whittling creations. He was very particular and carved only even-grained pieces of firewood for these items of elevated purpose. That spoon, Oma said, was a godsend and she couldn’t see how she’d ever do without it.

She scooped up some of the Manchurian turkey stew, brought it to her lips and tasted it in such a seriously focused way, I felt compelled to hold my breath.

“Mmh …” she said, “Turkey á la Manchuria — needs some fresh parsley.”

Everything she cooked needed fresh parsley. That, and early in spring, when it needed fresh chives. Chives that were so young and tender they cried watery droplets when you cut them.

Grandmother had pointed out their tears to me and asked: “Tears of joy or tears of sorrow? Hmm?” I remember searching her eyes, trying to guess what answer would please her. But they were soft and fierce, her eyes — all at the same time — demanding more than being pleased.

“Where is Manchuria, Grandma?”

She got that faraway look I knew so well.

“It is a very far away land with soft long hills and wide, wide green valleys for riding horses.”

“Wild horses?”

“Wild stout ponies with fire in their eyes,” she said. Just by looking at her you could behold the wild fire. “The hills are full of wild parsley, wild chives, even wild garlic.”

Nobody in the family liked garlic, just grandma and me.

She shook her head in wonder, “and ancient wild apple trees in hidden groves.”

I had no idea how a hidden grove needed picturing, but grandmother started mincing one of those wrinkled, winter-dried apples from the windowsill and folded it in with the last of our Christmas turkey leftovers.

“Oh my God,” she said, awestruck, and held out grandfather’s tasting-spoon for me.

I didn’t like turkey at the time, especially the gamey dark meat in her stews, but it’s wildness had merged with the wildness of Manchuria, and, sweetened by the apple, a new culinary world opened up for me.

Oma’s brown Huguenot eyes watched if I could see it all: the turkey hunt, the spines of long, green, parsley covered hills. If I could feel the bracing Manchurian air in my blond hair and ken — a Celtic goosebump-word if there ever was one — and ken the sorrow of longing to be somewhere else, wide-horizoned, unpeopled. Parsley scents exploding from under galloping ponies’ hooves.

Siegfried Haug is the author of I WANT TO SLEEP, a workbook for insomniacs. A suspense novel, BAD SLEEP, caught the interest of a local publisher. Retired now from clinical work and teaching, he lives with his wife, a ceramic artist, in the foothills of the Berkshires. When warmth is hard to come by they migrate to Key West.


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