In Creative Writing the teacher always gave us assignments like “write about your grandmother’s kitchen.” I know why she did this. She wanted us to write about cookies and love. Blech. The girls all wrote about cookies and love and it made me want to throw up. Hannah wrote about how her grandmother made chocolate chip cookies with her and how she let her mix the dough and how she ate them afterwards when the chocolate was all melty and her grandmother wore wire-rim glasses and an apron and slippers, and when her grandpa came home he ate cookies too and gave them all a big kiss. Hannah Hopkins is a liar because everyone knows she has no grandparents, because her granddaddy killed her grandmother and spent the rest of his life in jail. Killed her dead with a carving knife. She got an A+. That’s when I stopped believing in Creative Writing.
This year we have a new teacher and she’s lazy. She’s using the last teacher’s class plans, so we have to do all the same assignments over again. Last time, I wrote about how my grandmother’s kitchen had flowery wallpaper and smelled like cotton candy and how my grandmother used to be in the circus, which is how come she loved cotton candy. I got a D. I went too far, I guess. This year, I’m going with THE TRUTH, because being creative doesn’t pay off.
My grandmother makes me eat potato pancakes every day. This is because she lives on a potato farm and there isn’t much else to eat. My grandmother is a stout woman who never smiles, and she always wears the same blue spotted dress and apron and puts her grey hair in a bun on her head. She is too poor for wallpaper.
When my grandmother makes potato pancakes, she clamps a steel grinder to the wooden table in the kitchen and cranks the handle while pushing potatoes in. The potato mush comes out the other end. I sit and watch. There is nothing else to do.
Once my grandmother has ground all the potatoes into mush, she mixes it with some flour, salt and pepper, and hands me an onion to cut up. She doesn’t like cutting onions because they make her cry. They make me cry too. But I do it.
My grandmother mixes the onion with the potato mush and warms up a skillet with a big knob of bacon fat in it. Then she puts in handfuls of the potato mixture. They sizzle when they hit the pan. I often wish for a sausage instead but this is not to be. I once asked for sausage and she threw a spoon at me. Grandmother isn’t one for conversation.
I do not know my grandmother’s name. I’m not sure my mother knows my grandmother’s name, and they’re related. My mother grew up eating potato pancakes and as soon as she had me she left to go work in the big city so here I am. Maybe her name is Gretchen. Maybe it is Gerta. Maybe it’s Esperanza. OK, that’s impossible, I know that. Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. Maybe it’s Verzweiflung. That’s a German word, and she is German.
When the potato pancakes are done, Grandmother stands over me and makes sure I eat every bit. This is because she suspects I do not like potato pancakes. If I had a dog, I would feed them to the dog. Some apple sauce would be nice. A dollop of sour cream would be better. A sausage would be better still. After I have eaten the potato pancake, Grandmother wipes my face with a foul-smelling rag and sends me out to play. Most of the time she hands me a garden fork and basket because I also have to dig up more potatoes for dinner. This leaves very little time for play. A dog would be nice. A dog and a ball would be better.
When I grow up I will never eat another potato pancake. If I never see a potato pancake again in my life I will consider my life to have been a success. When I grow up I will eat sausages and own a dog. I will marry a lady named Esperanza who smells like cotton candy. Some people might call this wishful thinking, but I call it ambition.
The Cooking of Germany, Time-Life Books, 1968