Why I Don’t Eat Lentils, And Other Stories

2 Jul

My grandmother

It is the mid-1980’s. I am fourteen years old, in ninth grade, and I am sleeping soundly. In the early hours of the morning, I suddenly wake up with a jolt. Somehow, I just know that my grandmother has died. I know this with the same certainty that I know the sun rises in the east. Granny has had a cold, but her health has been as good as can be expected for a woman in her 80’s. There has certainly been nothing to indicate her impending death. And yet, as I wake up, I know for a fact that she is gone, but I don’t have a clue as to how this knowledge has come to me.

As I lie in bed wondering what to do with this knowledge, I hear the phone ring. I listen to the sounds of feet running to answer the phone, followed by the muted tones of conversation. My door opens and Mom comes into the room. She seems surprised to find me awake so early.

“Granny has died,” Mom tells me.

“I know,” I say. Mom looks at me a little oddly, but lets my remark go, probably putting it down to just-woken-up bleariness. I sit up in my bed and Mom and I hug one another. She has lost her mother and now has no surviving parents. I have lost my grandmother, a woman I had loved dearly.

This loss is going to be hard on both of us.

One of the earliest memories I have of my grandmother is her lentil soup. The woman was a marvel in the kitchen – not so much because of the quality of her cooking, but because of her uncanny ability to create full meals with virtually no ingredients. She had raised three kids on her own while my grandfather was fighting in World War II, and lack of both supplies and money had made her very inventive and resourceful.

She used a lot of lentils. Lentils were cheap and nutritious, and there was apparently no problem getting hold of them during the war. Old habits die hard, I suppose, so thirty years after the war had ended, when supplies were plentiful and the economy was strong, my grandmother was still making her lentil soup.

It was, without any doubt whatsoever, the worst lentil soup. Ever. Granny would dish out these bowls of the stuff for her seven grandchildren, and make us sit at the table until we had finished it all. I mean, I know it was good for us and everything, but it just tasted so – horrible.

To this day, my friends, I cannot eat lentils. Not in soup, not in salad, not in anything. Those dark days of lentil soup tyranny ruined me for lentils forever.

Fortunately, there was a flip side to the lentil soup. My grandmother made the BEST banana fritters in the whole world. Let me tell you how good these things were. I don’t like bananas. I hate the taste, and I hate the texture, and I’d rather set my face on fire than eat them. But Granny’s banana fritters? I could eat those things until the cows came home. And she was the only one who could make them. She did give me the recipe, and I tried, but she just had that magic touch. When she died, so did the fritters.

I was quite an accomplished pianist in those days. I was very serious about it, and every year I would do practical piano exams to advance another level. I was always allowed to take the whole day off school on music exam days, and when the exam was done, my mom would drive me straight over to my grandmother’s place, where there would be some freshly made banana fritters waiting for me, made in honour of that day’s accomplishment.

Every summer, I spent a week or so with my grandmother. She lived on a large property off the beaten track, and there were acres of open space to play in. She had loads of dogs (including an ancient fox terrier named Chaka Charlie who always made me feel a little freaked out), and a coop full of pigeons. My cousins lived just down the road, and together we would play elaborate adventure games in Granny’s massive yard.

And in the evenings, after dinner, Granny and I would spend hours playing checkers. We would drink our tea and eat chocolate-dipped shortbread made by my aunt, who lived with my grandmother and still lives in the house today. And we would play endless games of checkers. Granny was a master at the game, and although I did win from time to time, this was very, very rare.

The last time I stayed over at my grandmother’s place, she asked me if I would teach her to play chess. Immediately, I agreed. This would be fun. My grandmother definitely had the mind for chess. She would have been fantastic at it.

As it happened, though, I woke up one morning when I was fourteen, and before the phone had even rung, I knew that my grandmother was no longer with us. I never got to teach her how to play chess.

I’ll always have the memories, though.

I just wish I could figure out how to make those banana fritters.

 

 


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