Issue 7 - Fall 2013
  • One day this spring I discovered a forest of little green shoots volunteering from the small garden by my house. Soon purple flowers, miniature allium clusters, weighted the ends of the shoots, and the graceful, curving stems told me I had chives galore, a gift. I yearned to share the plenty, for my late husband, Eric, had once adored this delicate herb, snipped into green specks atop the custardy Schnittlauchsauce of his native Austria and served with the choice cut of boiled beef called Tafelspitz. When he was alive, some twenty years ago, I made this dish, and shared food and love and culture by feeding him the dishes of his homeland.

    A bold and forthright man, Eric had a special fondness for anything weak or subtle, like violets, birds with broken wings and foods that trembled, as though he needed their shy timidity to complement his brash desire for action. His nostalgia for Austria was equally two-sided. Born Jewish, he’d barely escaped the Nazis in 1938, but always considered Austria his home. On our periodic visits to Vienna he would vacillate, first seeking recognition as a native by hopping into the front seat of a cab and trying to speak the local working-class dialect with the driver, then accosting a hotelkeeper with offended American pride to  ............

  • demand correction of a U.S. flag hung upside down. He longed with fury for the embrace he could never accept.

    Married and in love with this contradiction, I enjoyed Vienna’s Tafelspitz and new white wine as much as he, but I couldn’t understand why he longed for acceptance by a country that had voted 99.7 percent for annexation to Nazi Germany, condemning its Jewish population to persecution, deportation, and death. I dug in my heels and turned my back, pointing out Austria’s long colonial and anti-Semitic history, refusing to hate the Ottoman invader or mourn the loss of the Südtirol. He pulled one way and I pulled the other until he died.

    Without his counterweight I fell forward, as though catapulted across a chasm, and I looked to Vienna and its past as the matrix that had formed the man I’d lost. I wanted as much of his milieu as I could get, not just the city he knew but the hazy country of his mother’s longed-for girlhood, the Empire that lost the First World War and died in shame. I imagined her childhood in the outposts of Austro-Hungary, spinning hoops along the road, beloved daughter of a military physician and general. Reaching yet further back, I searched the Internet and found scenes of  ............

  • Cernowitz in Bukowina, now Ukraine, where her parents had met. Jews had thrived in that polyglot metropolis, emerging from centuries of repression.

    I’ve long since let go of Cernowitz, but chives in spring awakened my old desire for ghosts. I took out a dusty box of medals from the Empire, known as Kaiserlich und Königlich, imperial and royal, often shortened to K.und K. Satirists called it “kaka” for the dross beneath the Baroque surface. Inside the box, a general’s gold stripes and stars languished on moth-eaten red, while an oval Red Cross medal hung from a red-striped bow. The latter once festooned an honorific sash across the bosom of Eric’s grandmother, given for nursing soldiers, while the stripes boasted of his grandfather’s rank.

    Something about my husband lurked inside that box, between the honors and the kaka, the sashes and the shame. If I could stretch a hand across the ocean and back in time to vanished Cernowitz, the time and place that made him possible, then he might spring out of them again. I see him, larger than life, emerging from the smoky bustle of that town. He strides into the present, brushing aside all that gets in his way, and chooses me. I  ............

  • will not let him go.

    My life has filled with work and friends, adult children, grandkids, books and trying to write the truth. When that gets hard, I light some charcoal, pour wine and gather friends, and we eat the foods of many lands. But still the world that birthed my husband flows beneath the life I’ve made, one of many streams that waters fruitful days. It surfaces like volunteering chives spring up from earth, alluring and flavorful, then fall back to germinate, unseen.

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