Gregg and the Dragon
It was now nearing the month of July. There were only six more weeks of schooling before our language classes terminated and we would be going to our permanent assignments. It was something that neither Gregg nor I had really discussed, almost as if we avoided talking about it, it wouldn't happen. I had gone to Southern California several times to visit my mother during our time in Monterey, but Gregg had always declined the invitations to accompany me.
The Fourth of July was to be on a Sunday. It would be a long weekend, and since my birthday was on the sixth I knew that I had to make an appearance at home or risk the wrath of Bozhena. When I asked Gregg if he would like to go south with me, it came as somewhat of a shock when he immediately agreed. Dwight was driving home to Riverside when classes finished on Friday, could drop us off at mom's house and then pick us up for the return journey late on Monday afternoon.
Leaving shortly after 4:00 pm we made good time, considering the holiday weekend traffic, the six hours passed rapidly and we arrived at the house around 9:30 pm. It was ablaze with lights and Bozhena was waiting at the door with her smothering hugs. The introduction to Gregg was accompanied with her, "Vell, at last, I am to meet this young man. I have been inundated with information you about for the last year and a half." I felt there was too much emphasis on the word 'inundated' and wondered just exactly where she was headed. Gregg and I took our things upstairs to my bedroom and I quietly warned him not to be bothered by anything that she might say, and then added that she was probably more dangerous than Bela, his grandmother. Not in a physical way, but her tongue could be cutting and she had spent years honing it down to its present state of razor sharpness. He assured me that he was a big boy and capable of taking care of himself. I was beginning to wonder if this visit had been such a good idea as we headed downstairs into what I jokingly told Gregg was the 'Slovak Dragon's Lair'. Gregg looked at me a bit quizzically and remarked that he'd never heard of Slovakian dragons. I assured him he was about to encounter one in the flesh.
Bozhena was busy putting things on the table, mentioned that she had prepared a little something since she was sure we would be hungry. While she was in the kitchen I explained to Gregg that Slovakian mothers believe that humanity lives in a state of near constant famine and it is their personal responsibility to relieve those pangs of hunger.
"But first a little vine to toast the new member of the family." My mother's English grammar was impeccable, in fact she was horrified by the way most Americans spoke, with no regard for the grammar or rules of their own native language. Even her pronunciation was excellent, WITH the exception of the letter 'w' for which she consistently substituted a 'v' and after years of my trying to correct her, I realized that it was hopeless. She insisted that to her "vell trained ears" there was NO difference. Period. And what did she mean "new member of the family?"
She went into the adjoining living room and put a record on the stereo. It had always been her custom to have soft music in the background, usually European Salon music or Viennese waltzes. As we sat down she immediately lit the candles on the table and turned off the overhead light. Somehow the room seemed especially dark, almost menacing. God, what was that music? It was Sibelius' Valse Triste, as dismal and somber as anything ever composed. I momentarily thought that perhaps I should have invited Dwight since that particular composition was one of his favorites. I was learning to dislike it.
Then, arranging herself in her matriarchal chair, she explained that there was," jelitko, made from blood, goolash z hovyezee-ho masa nasmetanye, bramborovye knedliky, hrach, kapusta z kmin, and real bread." She had even included minor digressions as to some of the ingredients of each dish—delivered completely in Slovak, with the exception of 'made from blood' and 'real bread'. Bizarre. One of her first rules upon arriving in this country had been that we did not use our native language in front of other people unless it was specifically in order to explain a particular word or concept.
Gregg immediately replied, "Love real bread", giving the impression that he, like Bozhena, abhorred imitation bread. Then, his eyes having become accustomed to the dim light, and looking around at the shelves of books, stacks of books, and books piled on top of books, he commented, "Holy Mother of God, it looks like a fu... I came close to having a minor heart attack since I just knew he was going to say 'fucking'. Instead he coughed, and began again. "Wow, looks like any well stocked library." To which Bozhena proudly replied, "This is how ve live, vhithz nourishment for the mind and the body."
At this point I was wishing that my favorite film director Fellini would magically appear so that he could put on celluloid what could undoubtedly become one of his greatest scenes. It seemed to be getting more eccentric and bizarre by the moment. In fact it bordered on the absurd. I was a little disturbed and decided to try bring it back to some semblance of reality by explaining to Gregg that "the goulash is a traditional beef stew made with sour cream, the knedliky are dumplings made with potatoes, in Slovak known as brambory, oh, and the kapusta or cabbage is covered with caraway seeds, lots of caraway seeds. They look somewhat like little mouse turds, but they're really caraway seeds. As to the blood sausage it's yukky, and I suggest that you not even bother touching it”.
At this point I obviously got a bit carried away, those first few sips of wind seemed to have gone directly to my head, and added, "And the hrach are nothing more or less than fucking little round green peas. Oh, yes, the bread does look like the real thing, but you can never be sure until you chomp into it! I had never used the word 'fuck' in front of my mother before and she immediately knew that whatever game she'd been playing, it was over. And what was that extraordinary sound she made when she said 'with'? It had sounded almost like a Hungarian hiss.
Everyone had a long, silent drink of wine, which was a magnificent Gewurtztraminer, a favorite of both Gregg and Bozhena, and I suggested that it might be nice if someone told a joke or something. Bozhena and Gregg smiled at the same time and it appeared that reality might have returned. She began to question him about his family and when she heard him say he was part Greek, she said "Say something." I thought to myself, 'Oh, Jesus, here we go again, it was like a command you would give a trained dog, 'Speak Greek, Fido, speak'.
Gregg was not one to refuse a request, or command, and began reciting in his magnificent, well-modulated voice what was obviously a lyrical poem. Those magical sounds of the Greek language were like music and Bozhena, obviously enchanted, closed her eyes. When he finished, she asked, "Sappho?" Gregg, a bit surprised, answered, "Yes, it was her poem, 'He Appears To Be A God..., but how did you know?"
"Vell young man", she began, "I vas just guessing, but I have waited for over twenty years to hear something in Greek and had always hoped that it would be something by one of the classical authors. Vhen I was in the University in Bratislava one of my professors insisted we study Greek literature of the Classic period, in translation of course, so we would know the roots of our western literary tradition. Some of my favorites were the lyrical poems of Sappho. As I remember that poem ends with" and it was obvious that she was attempting to remember, and then translate from Slovak to English, " 'my eyes see nothing, my ears are buzzing, my skin is cold and my body trembles. I am more pale than the summer grass on the hill, and because of your very presence, I feel that I shall die.' Thank you Gregg for helping me to realize one of my dreams." He was impressed but not nearly as much as I was. I couldn't help but notice my mother's misty eyes and was positive that Gregg had seen them also. I also noted that it was the first time she had actually called him by his name. Gregg then also confessed that his selection had been prompted by the book of Sappho's poems that he had seen on a nearby table. Bozhena continued, "You know ve also have a little Mediterranean blood flowing in our veins, in that my grandfather was Turkish."
I felt that Gregg might have flinched ever so slightly, involuntarily since the enmity between the Greeks and the Turks was legendary and by now was almost a genetic trait. Having a Turkish ancestor was something I'd purposely never mentioned to him. Fortunately she managed to redeem herself, "But, I vas never very impressed and had always vished that he had been Greek. Actually my grandfather vas a bit crude and insisted on vanting to eat his food with his hands. Oh, I can understand using your fingers for specific foods, for instance no one would eat an Italian pizza with a fork, it vould be ridiculous." She had saved herself twice. "But can you imagine goulash, vanting to eat goulash vith your fingers, or fucking little green peas?"
Tit for tat. She smiled at me, the sweetest, most innocent, demure smile. Obviously she didn't like the sound of that word when it came out of my mouth and had made her point by showing me that it sounded even more ugly, 'odporny', when she used it. It was a word I never again used in her presence.
It was evident that Gregg's first introduction to traditional Slovak food was a roaring success and between the three of us that mountain of food had soon disappeared. It also supported her hypothesis that most people lived on the verge of starvation and were longing to be stuffed with good, wholesome food and 'real bread'. But she hadn't finished yet and soon returned from the kitchen with dessert plates and a large filled bowl. "Gregg do you like apples? I made a soft bread pudding which has apples. It's something we call zhemlovka."
I wondered why she couldn't have been this pleasant and sweet when the three of us first sat down at the table. What had irked her into that perverse display of babbling completely in Slovak? Was it like Bela who almost broke Gregg's arm when she thought that his friends were stealing his affection? Worse, did she suspect that I was having an affair with this handsome young man from Boston? I then noticed that while I'd been involved in my introspection, Gregg and Bozhena had become bosom buddies and were now talking about music — and the zhemlovka was fast disappearing.
Gregg asked about Cristina, my sister. Bozhena replied, "Oh, she's probably green and moldy by now." Maybe it was just me and my perceptions, but the conversation seemed to be taking another of those strange twists. I hadn't heard anything about my sister having died, but since I hadn't conversed with my mother in a week or so, I knew than anything could have happened in that period of time. Gregg's eyes got larger and rounder. I knew he was considering whether he dare ask what she meant.
Then she continued, "Vell, you probably don't know, but she recently went to Trinidad with her new husband,—why she married that divokye prasye I will never understand (the words divokye prase were obviously directed to me—it meant 'boar' in Slovak and was less than complementary), but in her letters Cristina says that it is very hot and humid and everything turns green overnight." Gregg's eyes returned to their normal size as Bozhena changed the subject. They returned to talking about music and she asked if he played the piano; he replied in the negative but mentioned that he loved to sing. They made a date for a musical session the next day and everyone was in agreement that it was time to turn in.
The next morning after breakfast (substantial, since Bozhena believed that people can come close to starvation by the time they wake up in the morning) she mentioned that I could use the car or if I wanted she would drive us anywhere we wanted to go. Now it was time for my eyes to widen and I replied that it wouldn't be necessary for her to trouble herself. In fact I knew that in that instant my heart had skipped a couple of beats in remembering her driving prowess. Then I made the mistake of asking if she'd had any accidents recently.
"Oh, a few but nothing exciting." Exciting? Did she mean 'nothing worth mentioning' or did she in fact really mean 'exciting'? Perhaps she loved the excitement of seeing people jump out of their cars with fire in their eyes and steam coming out of their nostrils after she had just hit their vehicles. I asked about her insurance. "Oh, like an elewator, always going up." Not positive I had understood her reply, I asked again, and she again said, "like an elewator". By God, she had done it! That was a definite 'w'; it was in the wrong word, but it was definitely the sound of a 'w' and not once but twice.
We were all wandering around the well-tended garden, which she proudly pointed out that she took care of by herself, well with the exception of the lawn which a neighbor boy mowed once a week. Gregg was impressed with the many subtropical plants, especially the large flowering hibiscus. Then she showed us her new electric garden sheers, used for pruning a large hedge between her property and the neighbors. She also mentioned that last week when she was pruning, the shears suddenly went dead. Seems she had neatly cut the electric cord in two. I cautioned that in the future she should be more careful since electrocution was not a pleasant way to die. Gregg immediately commented, "Yes, and it would give you a bad case of the frizzles." She seemed to be contemplating his statement and then began to chuckle. "Young man I like your sense of humor; can you imagine this blond mop frizzled and sticking out in all directions?"
Actually her hair was a beautiful shade of light brown with natural blond highlights. With soft waves that never needed the assistance of a beauty salon. My mother was nearing forty years old but looked much younger. And in spite of the calorie laden Slovak food she had managed to retain her youthful figure. She viewed the world through soft hazel eyes, and there wasn't much that missed her critical, all encompassing gaze.
Later I decided that I wanted to show Gregg the college which I had attended since I felt that the campus was particularly beautiful, and asked my mother for use of the car for an hour or so. It had a few more bruises than the last time I had seen a couple of months ago, but nothing substantial. Mt. San Antonio College was located in the rolling hills between two valleys, the San Gabriel and the Pomona. It was in an area that was still undeveloped and relatively smog free. As we were on the road leading down into the campus Gregg remarked, "Why didn't I see charming things like this when I first visited Los Angeles?" He was impressed with the layout of the campus, with its low buildings and their early California architecture; the profusion of trees, shrubs and abundance of flowering plants. Since it was summer and a holiday weekend there was no one around and it was the epitome of peace and tranquility.
When we returned lunch was waiting and I was thankful that it was a light repast. Then we all retired to spend some time with our books. There may have been three very different people in the room, but this was one thing we all had in common, the ability..... no, the necessity to spend time almost daily reading something, be it fiction or non-fiction.
Later that afternoon Bozhena suddenly announced, "Vell young man, it is time to hear your voice." Although she sometimes called him Gregg, she seemed to have a predilection for 'young man'." "You mentioned that you like opera, do you know any Mozart?" Without hesitation he answered, "Well if you've got the music with the words I can give it a try," She decided perhaps it would be best to give him something a little lighter to begin and asked it he knew Turna a Surriento or Core n'grato. His eyes lit up and he said, "We're on Bozhena." She opened her piano, then produced two music sheets, 'Surriento' and 'Core', and I knew they had to be recent acquisitions since I'd never seen them before. She plainly had been preparing for this occasion.
After the short piano introduction, Gregg closed his eyes, entered into the music and opened his mouth. Out flowed the most exquisite vocal tones I had ever heard. He began so softly, "Vide 'o mare quant,e bello, Spira tantu sentimento.... I'd heard him sing a lot in the last year and a half but never with such perfection, and emotion. She followed him perfectly when he would decide to elongate a passage, and then as he began the last two stanzas, 'E tu dice: 'I parto, addio!" T'alluntane da stu core' I knew that the living room was too small to contain the sound and it had to be flowing out into the universe. They finished and without looking up my mother softly requested, "One more time, eh?" If the first time had been incredible, the second rendition was nothing less than electrifying. As they were nearing the end, "Torna a Surriento, famme campa." I looked up and realized that my mother was crying, this was not an isolated tear or two, but the real thing. As the last note floated off into the ether, she got up, reached over and hugged Gregg. The tears were still falling, though softer and she told him, "You should thank God for your voice and thank yourself for how you have nurtured and cultivated that supreme gift!" Then I got bleary-eyed seeing the two most important people in my life in each other's arms. It was an extraordinary moment, an image of affection that will persist throughout time.
Gregg explained that his paternal grandfather had been from Naples and though all of Italy was devoted to music, he felt that perhaps the finest music and musicians were from the southern part. From early childhood he had been enveloped in the music of that region. Bozhena got a questioning look on her face, hesitated, then asked if he knew 'E te vurria vasa'? Without waiting he immediately began singing it. No musical accompaniment, nor did he need any. Bozhena was obviously lost in reflection; I had seen that look before. When he finished she went over to one of the drawers in the dining-room-library and pulled out some sheet music. It appeared she had had it for many years. She explained that it had belonged to her husband, my father, had been one of his prize possessions and had traveled from Czechoslovakia, by way of South America, to California. It was 'E te vurria vasa'. I couldn't imagine this as having belonged to my father, for in my mind he was Mozart, Schumann, Beethoven, Chopin....music of the northern and central part of Europe.
I immediately began to wonder if my mother was up to her inventions again. She could have gotten the music at a garage sale..... In the background I could hear Gregg explaining that though Enrique Caruso was well known for opera his two best selling records had 'O Sole Mio and E Te Vurria Vasa'. Well, now it made sense for I did remember my father loved Caruso and even had some of his records. Gregg and my mom were jabbering about something else and then he asked her to play some Mozart. She began with the Piano Sonata in C major and her choice made sense. It was light, yet forceful, and within a matter of seconds it had changed the mood in the room. She had become a little retrospective thinking about my father and this helped bring her back to the present moment.
Then I began to think again about how I had spent my life attempting to catch my mother in a lie, not a slight exaggeration, that was acceptable, but something like yellowed sheet music with a story that, at first, didn't seem to correlate. And try as I had for many years, I'd never succeeded. Was it possible that his lady just didn't tell lies? The music flowed on, Gregg sat down on the couch and was obviously content just to be; to absorb each and every note. The second movement of the sonata was lyrical and beautiful, I watched my mother's magnificent hands as they seemed to float over the keyboard.
When Bozhena finished, first she, and then Gregg insisted that it was my turn to contribute something. I sat down, didn't look for any sheet music, and began playing Mozart's Rondo alla Turca. I looked over at Bozhena and she was shaking her finger back and forth, much like a metronome, but I knew it meant NO! I stopped and she said, "That was excellent when you were twelve years old, but in case you haven't noticed you've grown up. What will your young friend think of you?" I hadn't played in months and didn't want to stumble through something. Then unbidden, my fingers began playing Mendelssohn's Barcarolle— beautiful, soft, flowing, dreamy and next began playing Schumann's Traumerie — each note flowed perfectly into the next in an easy succession. Yes, I knew that 'my young man' would like that, and he did. I wanted to play some Chopin, but decided that I had to wait for the proper moment.
And so the afternoon flowed into evening. I was reading and suddenly heard Gregg singing not in English, Italian, French or Greek, but German! I couldn't believe my ears at the near perfect enunciation and phrasing. He was seated next to Bozhena and was singing an aria from Mozart's Die Zauberflaute, The Magic Flute, and it was magnificent. He later explained that he really didn't speak German, but was able to read it sufficiently to sing, nothing more. I was beginning to wonder about dinner, knowing that Bozhena's preparations normally required at least a few hours, if not a few days, when she suddenly announced that we were going out to celebrate a most perfect day and mentioned that we could dress in casual clothes. I offered to drive and surprisingly she accepted, without hesitation and then added, "Ve should probably leave soon if ve're to get there by 8:00".
Obviously she'd made reservations, but when? It became even more mysterious when she wouldn't say exactly where we were going, just to get on the freeway to Los Angeles and she would point out the exit. We were on Interstate 10 which passes through Los Angeles, Hollywood, and then out to the San Fernando Valley before it heads north. The very route we had come in on yesterday. We were passing downtown L.A., which Gregg noted still didn't have an opera house, and were now going through Hollywood when Bozhena suddenly directed me to take the next exit. Then at the stop sign she motioned for me to go to the right and said that it would be 7 blocks ahead and the restaurant should be on the right. I had never known my mother to spend any time on this side of town. Did she have a private life I didn't know about? Soon I saw the sign, ZORBA'S. I didn't even know there were any Greek restaurants in L.A.!
The restaurant was quite large inside and packed with people, most of whom seemed to be speaking Greek so it was one of L.A.'s insider spots, not one of the ersatz places that had elaborate decor and showy, though not necessarily good, food. Gregg spoke to the waiter for a bit, in Greek, and immediately ordered some Retsina wine. He said that the waiter had suggested the Moussaka and named several other things that he felt we would enjoy. Bozhena smiled and said the night was his.
The White Retsina arrived, Gregg ordered the dinner, everyone toasted and at that moment a group of musicians arrived, and they began to play. All I had to do was to look at Gregg's face to know that he was in his element again. It had been nearly a year since I had seen this particular joy in his eyes. The first musical selection was a dance which is danced by males exclusively and naturally Gregg was one of the first on the dance floor. Suddenly we were back in Boston, or was it Greece?
Bozhena watched Gregg dance, smiled at his graceful movements, and then turned slightly so as to talk to me. "He is a very handsome young man, educated, cultured, with a voice like an angel, full of life and joy, and obviously loves you very much." The Retsina wine which was going down my throat suddenly stopped and refused to continue on its downward descent. I almost choked, and hoped, prayed, that she wouldn't continue, but she did, "Promise me that you will never do anything to hurt him or endanger the relationship you have." I stammered, "Mom, you don't know..."
"Vhat do you mean I don't know? I have eyes. I have ears. I have a heart, and I too have known love. It is the most precious gift you will ever receive. Honor it with all your being. I saw the change in you vhen you returned from Boston over a year ago. I have vatched you during this past year as you turned into a mature young man, one who vas very much in love. Who am I to judge vether it is right or wrong. Before this veekend I had one son, whom I love very much, and now suddenly I have two sons to love. Be happy—like me!" She grabbed my hand, squeezed it and then gave me a tender kiss on the cheek. Yes, I knew that she was happy and everything she had said was true, after all I had just that day discovered that she obviously didn't lie, it wasn't a part of her being. Now it was my turn to kiss and hug her.
Gregg returned to the table, vibrant, filled to overflowing with life. It was nice to see that very special sparkle in his eyes when he was in his element. Bozhena mentioned that she needed to go to the restroom and so Gregg jumped up, took her by the arm and led her over to the other side of the room where the restrooms were located. When he returned he questioned, "Why didn't you tell me you have the most fantastic mother in the world?" He leaned over, lowered his voice a bit, "If I didn't love you more than anything else in the world, and my 'orientation' were a bit different, I'd grab that elegant lady in a flash. Hey, what happened to the Retsina? Looks like we need another bottle."
It was at that point that I decided that I might as well tell him that the cat was sort of out of the bag, so to speak, since among other attributes, Bozhena was a very observant lady and had come to the conclusion that we were lovers, was pleased that we had found each other and that she now had another son. Whew! I got it all out in one breath, and didn't even stammer.
Gregg smiled the absolutely biggest smile I had ever seen on his face. No words, just a smile. Then finally, and very softly, "Wow. This has got to be one of the most perfect days of my life. You know I can't tell you how many nights I have cried myself to sleep during the last ten years because I missed my mother with a pain that at times was almost unbearable. And if I had gone out purposely looking for someone to call 'mom', I know I couldn't have found someone to equal Bozhena." At that moment the one and only Bozhena returned. Gregg jumped up, put his arms around her and said, "Hi, mom!" Now it was her turn for the super big smile. Dinner had arrived and it was definitely time for more Retsina!
It was an evening of excellent food and two bottles of Retsina, which Bozhena decided was about the finest thing she had ever experienced, but of course that was before the arrival of the Metaxa. For desert Gregg had chosen a number of pastries. The music continued and Gregg continued to dance throughout the evening. Everyone was content with life, which flowed with exuberance and joy, seeming to fill the universe with it's vibrant being.
The next morning Gregg was still asleep as I slowly came to full consciousness, my head resting on his arm. His immediacy served as a protective, loving mantel. How was it possible that I had been chosen to be the beloved of this incredible person? Equally amazing was the fact that his very existence had helped in resolving a conflict that had caused me an unknown number of anxiety-ridden days and sleepless nights for several years. I had known that at some point I would have to confront my mother with a discussion of my mental, emotional and sexual inclinations. However, even in considering how I might begin such a conversation I would break out into a sweat and my stomach would begin to contract in knots and actual physical pain. I had begun the discussion a thousand times in my mind but in the world of reality had never been able to implement a single word in order to begin. Suddenly, like so many fears, it had disappeared seemingly of its own accord. The release of this fear and guilt from my psyche was not unlike a rebirth.
Gregg shifted slightly, I raised my head and he turned over. Now it was my turn to cradle this magnificent being in my arms and I gently slid my arm under his head. He must have come close to consciousness for he made a slight noise of pleasure and grabbed my other hand in his in order to pull my arm closer around his firm, warm body. Outside a mocking bird began singing its varied songs of love. I knew that once it began to sing it could go on for hours, seemingly never repeating a single melody, and rejoiced in imagining that it was singing specifically for the two of us. I intimately knew that 'heaven' and all of its eternal delights could not come remotely close to the joy I felt at that moment. The only slight problem was how to extend this present moment into eternity and almost as a response to my dilemma Morpheus beckoned and I once again began to drift, sleep and dream.
When I awakened for the second time I gently removed my arm from under Gregg's head and after gazing at his sleeping form for a few minutes, got up. I showered and went downstairs. Bozhena was already bustling around in the kitchen and humming some of the music that she had heard the night before. Smiling, she began the day with the necessary ritual. "Dobre rahno, moi sin, yak se mash?" I replied, as I had for the last twenty years, "Dobre, dobre mama. Ty, yak se mash?" For as long as I could remember every morning had begun in the same fashion. When we first came to the US it had been decided that we would speak only English, but somehow the day's initial greeting had to be in our native language. First we had to know who we were, remind ourselves of our identity and our roots, and then the process of daily living could continue.
Bozhena was obviously very happy, it was evident in her face, her lilting voice, in her movements. The coffee was ready. Bozhena, like Gregg, really didn't begin the day until she had some coffee in her body to 'aid the circulatory system'. She began chatting, "Vhen I woke up this morning I was feeling a little heavy, depressed, knowing that you vould have to leave today, but then it suddenly came to me that this is a long veekend and ve have an extra day. And it is a very, very special day! Vshekno neilepshi narozeninam! Happy, happy Birthday!" I attempted to correct her with the fact that today was the fourth of July and my birthday wasn't until the sixth. She had decided that this year my birthday was on the fourth and besides those were just arbitrary numbers. Her logic was always infallible. "And my other young man, how is he this beautiful morning?" I explained that probably due to all the dancing Gregg was still asleep.
She got that far away look in her eyes, "I can still see him dancing, dancing, dancing. I know I have never in my life seen anything as graceful as his movements, they vere liquid. He vas not moving with the music. He vas the music. Oh, the music. Vhat incredible music. Thank you son for one of the most beautiful nights of this somewhat lonely voman's life. You know I have decided to marry again. Soon, I think."
This last statement came as somewhat of a surprise to say the least. In the nearly fifteen years since my father's disappearance; it was accepted that he was dead, but never referred to as such, she had never once even suggested that she might remarry. I immediately wanted to ask if it was someone I knew, or had met. In fact this called for an immediate refill on the coffee. Actually I wanted to pass judgment, to know if it was someone I approved of. Then I began to question my own thoughts. Why was it so difficult for human beings to accept that everyone had the right to make their own decisions, even to be 'wrong'? My first consideration hadn't been if it was someone she loved, but if it was someone that was worthy of her and that I could accept. It must have been that same emotion, rather than something based on rational thought, that had prompted her little charade on Friday night when Gregg and I first arrived. It seemed funny now, and I would never again be able to face those little green, round things without knowing that they would forever be "fucking peas"; their name had been indelibly changed. Even thinking about it I began to smile.
Bozhena immediately wanted to know what was so funny. I replied, "Nothing Mom, its just that I'm happy about your decision. When's the wedding?" She looked shocked, "Vedding, vhat vedding? I haven't even met him yet, but I'm going to start looking this veek. And ve are going to have a honeymoon in Greece." Then she smiled, "Or maybe I should go to Greece, find a nice elderly gentleman, marry him, and then ve vouldn't have to go so far for the honeymoon." By this time she was chuckling about her little joke.
I began with, "Mom, about our little discussion last night....." Then I saw her eyes begin to turn into squinty slits, her jaw firm. "Discussion, that vas no discussion, I merely presented the facts as I had observed them. You vant to discuss? Vell ve vill vait until your young man comes down, because now ve are talking about a family business, and with family members ve discuss things together. That has always been the rule in this house. My other son deserves to be heard also." As usual her logic knew that there was a proper procedure for everything. Her other son? God, this was getting complicated. In fact it was just a bit strange—was Gregg now my brother or my 'young man'? It was almost incestuous. She questioned my most recent smile, but I said it was nothing, somehow there were certain limits and that was a little joke I just couldn't share with her.
There was some noise upstairs and it was evident that Gregg was up and moving about. Soon he came downstairs and entered the kitchen, smiling as usual, dressed in some new white Bermudas and a brilliant, blue and white striped polo shirt. Bozhena and I were still seated at the kitchen table. I just couldn't resist the temptation, "Hi, little brother, how're you this morning?" Immediately Bozhena wrinkled her brow and gave me a mean, squinty eyed look, though it lasted only a fraction of a second for then with a big smile she inquired, "And how is my handsome second son this morning?" He came over and gave her a hug and kiss on the cheek. At almost the same time she was pouring his coffee. Intuitively knew she had a kindred soul in the coffee department.
"Vell since ve are celebrating a birthday today the first priority is the cake, " she began, "and ve can't decide if it should be poppy seed, in Slovak we call it Makove kolach, or perhaps Shvestkove kolach, that's plum cake. Gregg have you ever had poppyseed cake?" "No?. Vell it is delicious; and Makove kolach it vill be." I felt my feathers ruffling just a bit. After all it was my birthday and I hadn't even been consulted. I was beginning to wonder if Bozhena's new 'son' wasn't receiving just a little more attention than he really deserved, but immediately recognized my agitation exactly for what it was, a wee bit of jealousy. God, when was I going to grow up? At times it seemed to be an amazingly difficult process. The phone rang, and though there was a phone in the kitchen, Bozhena went into the living room to answer it.
"Hi, sweets" he said as he reached over and gently squeezed my hand. I inquired about how he felt today after an evening of intensive dancing and he replied, "Recharged. I didn't realize how much I relied upon that Greek part of my life; the food, the music, the total ambiance, to sustain my well being. The other necessary part is you and your love, your closeness and tenderness, your ever-present wide-eyed innocence. And now, knowing Bozhena, I have another vacant part of my life filled. I know that she is your mother, but I also know that she has a super abundance of love, sufficient to share. You'll never know how much that love, which she has offered, means to me. Most of all she has accepted our relationship as having significance, as being valid, as being based on mutual love. Do you have any idea how incredible that act was?
I mentioned that she had always been a very compassionate person. He interjected, "Compassion, that wasn't compassion; compassion is sort of like feeling sorry for someone. That was pure, unconditional love. It is something that all religions talk about, but unfortunately hardly ever get around to practicing."
The mockingbird outside was still serenading us as he continued, "One of my friends in Boston finally decided to tell his family that he was gay and do you know what they did? They literally kicked him out of the house. They told him to leave, that he was dirty, filthy and was no longer their son. I probably don't need to add that they go to church every Sunday and pray for his soul, but still won't have anything to do with him. This same friend, Mark, told some of his straight friends that he was gay, guess he was a glutton for punishment, and many of them also dropped him like a hot potato."
"And this anecdote about Mark is not an isolated example, it happens all the time. You know I still haven't been able to talk to my family, although I'm sure they know. They have to know I remember Bela went through a period, no doubt when she finally realized I was probably gay, in which she was almost rude to any friend that I brought to the house, and they were all straight. God only knows what she would have done if I had arrived with someone who was a bit effeminate or faggoty."
"And by the way I'm still amazed at the way Bela accepted you In fact I've thought a lot about it and, you know, I think she does know about us and in her own way, is accepting. But Bozhena, that incredible lady in the other room talking on the phone, yes I'm talking about your mother, my adopted mother, she is unique, an absolute jewel." It was evident that his batteries had been recharged and he was talking non-stop once again. It was nice to see him so effervescent.
At that moment Bozhena reentered the room with the announcement, "At times that Turk turns my blood into great big lumpy kurts." I was the first to react, "Mom, did you say curds?"
"I said kurts, you know, k-u-r-t-s, kurts." Gregg looked more than just a bit confused by what was transpiring; he was obviously attempting to grasp the significance, using a process of normal logical deduction, but it was still escaping him..
I came to his rescue and explained that I thought the correct expression in English was that 'someone curdled your blood'. It would have been difficult to explain, but she often did that; she would take an idiomatic expression and, as she had often explained, 'give it a little more life', which usually removed it so far from the original that no one had any idea what in the hell she was talking about. It seemed that Mr. Ankar, her Turkish boss, had a new idea or request that she..... Of course! Utilizing her infallible logic, 'kurts' had the same letters, slightly rearranged as 'Turks' and retained nearly the same sound as 'curds'. It was so simple once you learned to apply "Bozhena Logic" to her mysterious and oftentimes bizarre renditions, which at first seemed to defy comprehension.
She had been working for him for almost ten years and it had, at times, been a rocky relationship though I knew that there was also a lot of mutual admiration. However today he was a great big lumpy kurt; she probably wanted to call him a turd, but applying yet another of the rules of 'Bozhena Logic' there was no need to use obscene words when you had at your disposal a wealth of other acceptably descriptive words or phrases, even if it was necessary, upon occasion, to invent one.
The rest of Sunday was a pleasant combination of excellent food, music and conversation. That morning I noticed that Bozhena had not gone to Mass. I inquired, and she replied, "God is vith me all the time, but it is not everyday that my two handsome young sons are going to be vith me." The day passed all too quickly.
On Monday morning I hesitated to go downstairs knowing that Bozhena would be beginning to show the signs of her depression because of our departure that afternoon, though I knew she would valiantly attempt to not show it. Evidently Gregg had gotten up early. I went downstairs. "Dobre rahno, moi syn, yak se mash?" I replied, in response to completing the ritual, "Dobre, dobre mama. Ty, yak se mash?" There were three cups on the table, two had been used. The coffee had been poured and the day had already begun, evidently while I was still sleeping.
I asked about Gregg's whereabouts and was told that he was outside in the yard communing with his namesake. His namesake? It seemed that Bozhena, on hearing the mockingbird begin his morning serenade, had decided to christen it "Gregorio' since they both had such glorious voices.
She also revealed that she and Gregg had talked about the next two month's timetable. She knew that we would finish our schooling in five weeks and then we would have a two-week leave before departing on our overseas assignments. It had been established that he would be visiting his family in Boston and then would have to return to San Francisco before being sent to Korea. He had accepted her suggestion, and invitation, to come back to southern California a few days early in order to visit before the trip overseas. I'd wanted to propose the same, but had been reluctant to do so for fear of imposing on his time with his family.
Bozhena, having that same fearless spark of extroversion as Gregg, had obviously felt no such qualms. Strange how three days ago they hadn't even known each other and suddenly they were as connected as if family, and even planning my future, not that I minded in the least since it would mean a few extra days with my beloved Mediterranean mockingbird.
That afternoon Dwight arrived promptly at three o'clock. God, he functioned like a British railways timetable, always exactly on schedule. Knowing his preciseness Gregg and I were ready and waiting when he arrived. The 6 to 7 hour trip back to Monterey would always be remembered not because it was the first time that Dwight had really talked about himself, but rather my constant internal awareness that my love for Gregg had not been invalidated by my mother, but rather unconditionally accepted. I knew that it was one of the finest gifts she had ever bestowed upon me. And though she may have dragged me out of the closet, she did it with a smile.