I’m standing in the hallway watching my mother and my grandmother argue over potatoes, back and forth in clipped tones. I can’t yet reach the counter and I wasn’t taught the language, but I’m clever.
Mamička, use the peeler
Knife is fine
But the peeler is easier
What, easier? Peels fall right off
It’s more work
You think I’m afraid of work?
The argument increases in volume and gesticulation, a Hungarian-Slovak tradition of turning a conversation into performance art. They bark at each other as utensils crash into the sink.
My mother tells her mother: progress has surpassed your knowledge. My grandmother tells her daughter: your knowledge is juvenile and incomplete. They each ignore the other in an attempt to keep the upper hand, blind to the reality that neither of them are holding it.
These women were carved of mountains, harsh and discontent. The legacy they carry is fraught with ancestral miscommunication. Can you keep from screaming when there are no soft words she’ll hear?
My memories of my grandmothers are murky. Old houses, tiled kitchens and kitty cats held too tightly. The ties cut long before caskets were burnt. Before I fully understood what had been kept from me.
I wish I could speak to the lot of them: generations of women that stretch back in time and live in the marrow of my bones.
There was time, I would say, there was space, for your daughters, these beautiful versions of yourselves. You needn’t have been so harsh. You can’t protect her from the world that way. If you see her speak too loud, laugh too long, let the tide of jealousy wash over you. Try not to look at her and see what you have failed to do; instead, look with wonder at how well she carries the legacy you share and revel in her joy. She has taken your lessons, the strength of the women who have come before her and stretched higher into the sun.
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