Death & Pierogis.
A story about something yummy and something inevitable.
It’s been 5 days now since learning about the death of my father which actually happened on May 5th. Along with the passing of his mother, my Grandma in 2019 and his 2nd wife in 2016. I’ve been avalanched.
But this isn’t where I wanted to start with all this.
I was in the bathroom crying this morning, my dog wanted to comfort me. Offering herself to be hugged, licking my face—- I was thinking about last night at work. I went in, my first day back at the bowling alley/concert venue after everything had happened. Also hanging over me continued incomings of new news about what was his life was like, popping up almost hourly.
The most recent being more of his possessions going to auction. Three cars this time—- I wrote an email to the Pastor of the church he left everything to. The church where he lied to them and went to his grave saying he had no other family. It was even in the bulletin listed as so. I wrote a well-crafted, polite, lips-pursed-behind-blood-stained-teeth-from-the-brick-in-the-face-I-was-hit-with-on-Monday tenseness, email— along with photos to prove he DID have family, but chose to not acknowledge, because he HAD ALOT TO HIDE. After sending it, I figured I may not recieve a reply until the next working day and was at peace with that. But to my surprise, 5 minutes later, there was one. It was gregariously flippant. The punctuation was lacking. Misspelled words, jumbled words—- I was left deflated. I felt as if this Pastor voice dictated his reply, like a spoiled brat, (picture Clarence from “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”) into his Apple Watch a reply, while walking out of the gym and hopping into his Mercedes-Benz—-his fresh, Planet Fitness spray tan coating his seat. I would have had much more comfort if the Pastor of this Catholic Church, about to receive an overly-generous donation from him, would have emailed me back writing, “Thanks for the money! Sorry not sorry about your dead dad and all the abuse! Gonna spend it on hookers and cocaine. Toodles and Be blessed!” With some poignant, speed dialed, religious emojis. It would have been more honest.
But back to yesterday at work. It was the first day being around anyone outside of my own home. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t discuss what was going on. I would be stoic, forlorn and stare off into nothing, reflecting on the past few days. That’s it. I’d just type in Door Dash orders and tolerate the regular named, “Tina” whose obsessive additional directions were long paragraphs of her own delight in telling the kitchen staff how to prepare her food. This time—to put “extra, extra garlic butter spread and lots of sprinkle cheese on her pepperoni roll. Make sure you wrap each item, including dinnerware and plenty of napkins.” Normally, there’s a written paragraph with each food item. “Make sure the boneless wings are not in sauce, but have the sauce next to them, but only on the right side. Please wrap each wing individually to maintain internal temperature.” Meanwhile, orders are coming out of the kitchen that either need bagged or brought to dine-in customers. But, here I am—- writing Tina’s cook book to print out on a ticket in the back—- just waiting for the weekly blurted laugh from the kitchen staff and or, a smirky walk to my window, head cocked— just waiting to drop a punchline about the neediness of Tina’s food prep. Laughter ensues. When her order is picked up by the door dasher, he tells us she never tips and he is also being sent to a nearby store for additional items. Eyebrows are raised. Hands are covering sputtered laugher.
Earlier, when I had just begun my shift, two of the more entertaining bartenders were having a pre-crowded bar bitch fest. I ask the guys what they’re going on about and when I hear that their subject matter is a great segway for me to talk—- there it is, the blurting shooting out of my mouth diarrhea about my abusive father’s death. One bartender, the closest one to me is shocked and engaged. The other, behind him, wide-eyed—- looks quickly for a way out— and eventually disengages by looking away, then at the floor—- pulls his phone out, texting and walks away. I’m mortified by what I just did. This is who I was in my teens. Telling everyone everything about my personal life. Unsolicited. I shut up, realizing I had taken a laughter infueled light hearted bitch fest to a somber state of regrettable tales of woe.
I apologized. Over and over. What had a done. I keep to myself. I don’t do that. Yet—- there I was. Blabbering. I avoided eye contact the rest of the night with anyone else so my weeping eyes wouldn’t lead on to another urge for depressing mouth diarrhea stories.
That’s when there was an uptick in fried Pierogi’s with a side of sour cream being ordered. If you’re not familiar with what a pierogi is it’s a delightful soft Dough pillow filled with a concoction of cheesy mashed potatoes. creamy cheesy mashed potatoes tucked in dough by Ukrainian women, like my Grandma at a Catholic Church, for hours, then frozen or enjoyed panfried in copious amounts of warm butter and fried yellow onions but these pierogies in particular—-it gets better they are deep fried and then after they’re deep-fried their place in a plastic basket that is foil lined with butter dripped over top of them and lightly sprinkled with parsley along with a cold soufflé Cup of sour cream on the side for dipping.
See, my father’s mother spent years at a local Catholic church making these every week. They were then sold to patrons to be enjoyed in their household. As each basket of pierogies passed through the kitchen window all I could think about was that wide hipped, cotton candy piled white haired Woman standing all those hours amongst her women friends making these with the spirit of God in their hearts and coming out through their hands through their weekly labor. The worked dutifully believing in their hearts that they were truly doing the Lords work.
After hours of filling hundreds of pierogis, my grandmother would return home hunched over, tired, put a tea kettle on the stove and make herself a cup of Lipton tea while smoothing the kitchen table cloth out underneath her hands. Stretching her hands out and pumping a squirt or two of rose milk into her palms to soothe them. She would sit quietly at the table after getting back up to make her tea in silence, then contemplate how the pain was surging into her legs and into her hips. I would stare at her paper thin skin over blue and purple veins in her hands and ask her why her index fingers were slightly bent and how after making hundreds and hundreds of pierogies her whole life, seeing how sore she was—- why she did it. I was too young to understand but I really loved pierogis. All I could think about was how good they tasted. How, when cooked in the silver pan that she set aside always just for pierogis, would give them the perfect crispiness and softness at the same time. How, when you went to bite into a pierogi, there was this crunch and sigh of softness, as you took it into your mouth. The warm butter would drip down your chin and the sides of your mouth. Grandma always had either pierogies in the freezer or the refrigerator in one of those long cloudy white Tupperware containers. They were always a mainstay in her refrigerator. Some thing I grew up to count on.
One day, it all stopped. She had slipped upon some potato filling that was on the floor hurting her hip pretty bad. That was the last time she made pierogies at the church.
At the bowling alley that day, all I could think about was her. How much I loved her and now how much hatred was beginning to grow. Just like my father, she also decided to no longer acknowledge she had grand-children. For many years, I scoured the internet looking to see if there was any news about her or if she had passed away. Because— I was still carrying her in my heart, along with my abusive father, hoping to make better memories with both of them one day. Just to maybe hear her voice, out of breath, as she hurried to grab the house phone, sit on the chair near the counter, saying “Helloooooooooooo Kerri! It’s so good to hear from you!” But that never happened. The last time I called, in my late teens, she told me to never call back and slammed the phone down onto the receiver. She had made her choice. But I still cared about her and shined and polished up the memories I had over and over like aging silverware. This week changed that. It was over. It’s final. She’s dead. There will be no reunion or apologies— she sided with her son and both chose to never know me or my brother ever again. That was it.
I went over to the computer screen, I typed in my own order of fried Pierogis. My first bite, after ripping one open with my fingers that became slicked with golden fried butter—- running down my index finger—- oh, there it was. Grandma. I pushed the basket aside. Then, I put it out of sight. I didn’t want anyone to see me eating. I also didn’t want to be interrupted polishing those Grandma dreams again. Then, 4 more times for each additional Pierogi I ate, I played hide and seek with the food basket. But, the more I ate, the less I was enjoying them. Instead, they turned into chewy plastic that I was choking on. Because my feelings had changed and I had seen what liars these people of faith had turned out to be—- thinking they could buy their ticket to heaven—- lying all the way to the grave and to the parishioners they shared church pews with, shook hands and granted their “Peace be With you” to one another— I couldn’t eat anymore of them. I asked if someone could watch the window for me as I walked off to throw up in the bathroom stall.
I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror after rinsing my mouth out and washing my hands. I saw how much I looked like my Grandma, my father, and my mother. I couldn’t escape that. I have his laugh and my mother’s. I have his ability to talk to anyone with confidence and to make them laugh. I have my Grandma’s hips and ass. My father’s hair. My mother’s hands. Even though I no longer existed to them both—- I lived. I was scrappy. I made the best of being poor and small, however, I can’t make pierogis worth a damn.
I went home that night, hunched over, sore, just like my Grandma would, but came home to my partner, my Boston terrier—- everyone full of happiness to see me. Sassy jumping all over my legs and pushing off them, rolling all over the driveway waiting for belly rubs, sniffing me for signs of pizza. Rob hugged me, a welcome home schmooch and another very long hug by my SUV. We walked into the house together and I felt a little better that the people in my life want me there. That I’m missed when I’m gone. That there’s someone and a dog that look forward to seeing me everyday. That they don’t mind having me around. I think that makes it all worth what I’ve gone through in my life and I’m absolutely grateful for having this much happiness.
I’m gonna be okay. Can’t eat Pierogis for awhile, but I’m gonna be okay.