Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mama Bread

Last weekend when we were out visiting, the final stop was at an open house for a new TunaU graduate. The family were long-time friends of the Tuna clan, and we had known them since they arrived in America about fifteen years earlier as Armenian refugees. GramTuna had been their English language tutor, and over the years we watched their daughter (the now college graduate) grow, and we shared our lives and cultures over many meals and bottles of vodka. To this day I can still remember how to say "Happy New Year" in Russian; no small feat since at the time I would have been in no condition to do much more than fall down and sleep for the next 18 hours.

As we were sharing hugs and congratulations, the Grand Patriarch of the family ambled over to say hello. To this day he still has no real English skills so others reminded him who we were. With GramTuna, myself and TeenTuna standing in a row, they were explaining the whole Grandmother - Mother - Granddaughter concept, but he still seemed a little confused so they started again and just said, "Daughter - Daughter - Daughter." Then he smiled and we all laughed and decided that technically they were absolutely right. We were all daughter - daughter - daughters.

As I sat with my plate and my beer and my vodka shot glass, I was amazed at all the people I didn't know. What was once a core group of people had grown. Over time more refugees had arrived. Some married and had children of their own. Others had passed away, but we still drank to their memory and ate Mama bread. One of the first lessons the Tuna adults learned about our friends the Armenians was bread was an important part of any meal, especially when Vodka is involved. The Grand Matriarch was always in charge of making the bread, so, not knowing what else to call it, I called it "Mama Bread" and the name stuck. Mama didn't speak much English either, but she quickly learned "Mama Bread" and always smiled. There was always lots and lots of mama bread at every meal.

As we ate and drank under the tent, we learned the names of new babies, swapped stories of "the old days" and made toasts to the parents and the college graduate. With plates piled high and glasses always refilled, we complimented the many chefs who made the afternoon possible. Although she had passed away several years ago, the mama bread was still there in abundance, and we were told that they liked the name mama bread so much, they still call it that today. "She knew how important it was, " I said as I ripped off another piece. "It's more than just food. It isn't a meal unless you have mama bread."

We cleaned our plates and then stuffed some desserts in cracks that really didn't exist, but oh! it was worth it to try. We made many toasts: to parents and grandparents, to the graduate, and to the ever-growing number of family and friends. What was once a small group of people thrust into a new country grateful to be alive was now a thriving community of family and friends. And although we knew that what happens tomorrow is for today a mystery, everyone -- the daughters - daughters - daughters and the sons - sons - sons -- will be sure there are glasses to raise and mama bread to sustain everyone at the table. Mama taught them well.

To all the mamas, daughters and sons, Happy Mother's Day.

And Happy New Year, too.
Pass the mama bread.

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