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Not Just A Cook

By Avram Mlotek

Section: Arts

October 19, 2007

You know, Avram, my grandmother said, when you speak at my funeral I dont want you only to say that I was just a good cook.

I laughed out loud and looked at her but she continued cutting carrots.

Why are we talking about your funeral? I asked, still smiling.

Thats not all I am is all, you know?

I know. Of course I know, I said.

She continued cutting carrots for a chicken soup she was preparing for a family meal later that night. I was peeling potatoes to her left. She focused on the carrots, though, stared at them – not at me.

Ill be a doctor in my next life, she added.

Yeah? I asked.

Yes. Im sure of it. I laughed again.

You like that, huh? she said. I nodded.

Its a creative outlet for me, Avram, she said. The cooking. I suppose its a way for me to show people that I care about them.

I knew she was trying to feed me lines for my speech at her funeral, or at least, thats what I thought she thought she was doing.

Keep it short too, she added.

Keep what short?

The speech.

Grandma, why are you talking about your funeral? I asked again.

I always have.

You feel as if its imminent?

Its because of my upbringing. Im very much aware that life can end at any moment- any moment.

My grandmother was a passionate woman only in her seventieth year. Healthy, she jogged, worked as a librarian and said what she wanted to, when she wanted to, to whomever she wanted to. She wore glasses wherever she went and had diabetes. And she was proud to tell people of the latter.

Smaller pieces, she said to me, still looking at her cutting board.

I had learned that my grandmother could see what I was doing without actually having to be in the same room as me. And so it came as no surprise that my grandmother didnt have to see that I had placed the potato peels in the compost pile and was starting to cut the potatoes in large pieces – she simply knew.

My brother and sister came into the kitchen, playing and giggling.

My brother, taller and older, opened the door of a high cabinet and took down some chocolate and handed it to my sister when my grandmother turned towards them, Judah, she said suddenly to my brother, do you ever wish you had a younger brother instead?

My brother looked at my grandmother, unsure of what angle she was coming from and looked towards me for advice.

Grandma, I said, trying to hint at the eight-year-old sibling present in the room.
Im joking, Im joking. Go play. Judah and my sister Maya left the room.

My grandmother was born in Germany. She came to America as an infant with her parents who escaped the Nazis.

Her older brother Saul was supposed to be sent on the Kinder Transport and spend the war in Belgium but he ended up coming with my grandmother and her family at the last minute as they find out that the family that would be hiding him was giving Jewish children over to the Nazis.

She calls him almost every day to talk, although my aunts and uncles are convinced that its to see if the Nazis have captured him yet.

My blonde hair isnt real like my brothers, you know, she said.

His is real? I asked.

He always tells the truth, she said slowly. I nodded.

My grandmother kept a journal on her night table, alongside the ten books shes always in the process of reading.

What are you reading now, grandma? I asked her.

Finish cutting. Enough chat. Well talk later, she said to me quickly. I nodded and smiled again. I listened to her.

Alright, but grandma, at my funeral – I dont want you just to say that the only thing I did was follow orders well.

She stopped cutting and looked up at me. I made sure to keep looking down at my potatoes. After a moment she let out a laugh, looked back at her cutting board and said with a smile, Bet you Im first.

My mother walked in and noticed her son and mother laughing.

Whats so funny? she asked.

We were just talking about- I started to say when my grandmother interrupted me with, We have a common enemy.

Oh no, I said under my breath.

Here we go again, my mother said walking towards the kitchen table, away from us.
You versus me and he versus you, my grandmother continued.

Why do you find the need to make it into a battle, a constant competition? my mother asked.

My grandmother nodded and kept cutting.

Not everyone is out to get you, you know.

Come on! my grandmother nearly burst. She swung the cutting knife very close to my ear but missed.

She went on, You know its true! Children are against parents and vice versa! You hate me, I hate you, he hates you, you hate him!

I laughed out loud.

I dont hate you and I dont hate my son! my mother snapped back, unable to give in to her mothers sadistic playfulness.

My mother then stood from her chair and half joked, Sometimes I wish you really were that senile so we could just put you away, and walked out of the kitchen.

Ill be dead by then! my grandmother shouted, then laughed. She returned to her carrots and said, Okay, take a break. Ill finish in here. Go hug your mother.

What?

A hug, she said waiving the knife, To her. Your mother. Go. She waved the knife before and after each word.

As I put down my knife and rinsed my hands I said, You want me to get you an MCATS book to add to your list?

She was back to cutting, refocused. I already have a few, she said.

Of course you do.

You forgot, Avram, Im not just a cook.

I nodded.

Go already. You kids really ought to show her some more affection.

As I left the room, I turned back around and saw my grandmothers back, the front part of her body facing the sink and window right above it. I could see her reflection through the glass. I wasnt positive but I was fairly certain that her back was rising up and down, as if she was on the verge of crying. Her reflection in the glass window also showed her cheeks covered with what seemed to be a few tears.

And just as I decided to take a step closer to my grandmother to see if she was alright, she spoke, Your mother. A hug. MORE AFFECTION! she yelled. Ill finish the potatoes.

And then as I left I heard another whisper, And Im not just a cook. It was under her breath, barely audible- and again, not just a cook. Never just a cook. Never.

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