Mountain Memories

To my grandparents, written ten days before my grandpa passed

Tucked away in the remote mountains, somewhere where the untamed wind crosses the firmly rooted stream, and the open horizon envelops in its patchy embrace a modest house built on ambitious dreams, live two strong warriors in frailing bodies.

Two determined minds, whose sometimes muted words and fading memories only testify to the overabundance of experience and wisdom, hanging on by fragile frames of steel.

Faced with the paradox of my childhood vision of them, against the lucid cruelty of the reality of time passed, I love them more than ever — and remember them otherwise.

I recall treasure hunts in damp forests, contests to see who could wriggle more fearlessly into remote corners, to find the most prized mushroom and ‘borrow’ it from the forest floor — correctly, chivalrously, cutting only enough to fill a child’s ambitions in a mushroom basket.

Needless to say, I always fit in the toughest spots! But even if I emerged empty-handed, grandpa always exchanged baskets with me just before triumphantly re-entering the house.

I recall the exquisiteness of mushroom soup and cream and purées, the way her eyes would light up as I rattled off the list of trophy fungi assembled in the basket, as if grandma truly believed I was the expert mushroom collector and had only taken him along as witness to my unparalleled prowess.

I recall them making plans and asking about mine, regaling me with stories of adventures in desert lands or the lush native mountains beyond my time.

I remember setting tables — so many tables — for intimate feasts that involved the three of us and grand banquets involving half the village (with invitations extended to all house pets and wandering travelers).

I remember reading poems to them, in languages they didn’t always understand (together with my conviction that no translation would ever do them justice), then writing ones in their (and my) native tongue, and watching them fight back tears, just waiting for my final pause before spreading out their arms in the shape of that timeless embrace of the wind when it breathes air into the song of the Balkans.

In the end, I realize I will forever remember them just the same…and otherwise, love them more than ever.

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