The Stranger I Loved

The Stranger I Loved

The Stranger I Loved

by Katherine Komninos Wilder

She will always be a mystery to me, my Grandmother Komninos.

I do not know her first name. In fact, I know her only through one of my fatherÂ’s precious few photographs from the old country, as he called his native Greece. Was she stern like her pose, or lighthearted and fun-loving like my father? This woman with the huge, black eyes, this clear-featured woman whose face speaks of experiences IÂ’ll never know about, has had a profound effect on me. As a child I used to stare at her image, seeing so much of my father in it, longing to hear the tone of her voice, to know if she ever sang when she worked in her whitewashed home in Piraeus, the port of Athens, the way my father sang in the kitchen of his New England restaurant halfway across the world. She saw pictures of me, too, in my fatherÂ’s letters to her. What did she think of her strawberry-blonde American granddaughter, named after her own precious raven-haired girl, Katina? There was never a chance to find out, because sometime during World War II, when I was still a toddler, her letters stopped coming.

IÂ’m glad she didnÂ’t live long enough to know that her son, a teenage merchant seaman who jumped ship in America to look for gold in the streets, would die at forty-three. But I wish she had known that he lived to realize many of his youthful dreams. My father always wore a white carnation in her memory, but spoke little of her except to tell me how she sold her silver to send him to school. Later, I understood why he was unable to talk about her. When I was of an age to comprehend, my mother told me how Grandmother died: She starved to death during the Nazi embargo of Greece, along with her husband and hundreds of thousands of their countrymen. At least Grandmother didnÂ’t have to witness her daughterÂ’s grief for the twelve-year-old son who would years later step on a long-forgotten land mine.

Although I never met her, I know a few things about Grandmother Komninos. She was of tough stock. She survived the Turkish takeover of Smyrna and, with husband and children, made her way to the other side of the Aegean to safety. She raised three children: John, who was so tall and handsome he became a KingÂ’s guard; Charles, my dad, who dared to adventure the seas and the New World; and Katina, dark-eyed and elegant, after whom I am named.

I am probably older now than my grandmother was when she died, and, as I age, I look often at her photograph. I have come to recognize a quiet joy in her eyes and am willing to bet that, in spite of the hardships she knew, this stranger who was my grandmother was fully able to dance in the moment and laugh generously with the spirit of life.

Grandmother KomninosÂ’s Green Beans Halki Style

(Fresca Fasolia me Lathe)

Grandmother Komninos must have been a good cook. After all, her son was known throughout New England for his culinary arts, and he must surely have come by some of his talent through her. In daydreams I picture her patiently pressing out her own phyllo paper-thin and delicate and, like my father, seasoning each dish according to aroma, never needing to taste.

2 pounds whole string beans, fresh or frozen

1/2 cup water

2 medium onions, chopped

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, about 4 cups

3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Pinch of cinnamon

Steam the beans in the water until they are tender but still crisp. Sauté the onions in olive oil until they are translucent. Add the tomatoes, parsley, salt, pepper, and cinnamon. When this is hot, add the beans. Cover and remove from heat. Serve the beans hot. This makes an excellent side dish for 8 people.

FromAt Grandmother's Table Copyright 2000 Ellen Perry Berkeley

About the Author and Book:



The Stranger I Loved is one of over 50 pieces on grandmothers' cooking and recipes in a lovely book called At Grandmother's Table from Fairview Press. Editor Ellen Perry Berkeley has gathered the stories and recipes to inspire us.

Click here to read our

review of At Grandmother's Table

 
 
 

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