Friday, March 29, 2013

Mama Greek, Meet Baba Ganoush

adapted from a post originally published on 365 Attempts [at life]

Sunday night, as many of you know, is traditionally spent at my mother-in-law’s house.  She cooks for us, she and Tony argue, I hide in the bathroom, etc. When we eat, she points at all the food at the table, identifying each dish as if we were blind, asking me why I don’t like potatoes.

 My friend in Mama Greek's bathroom.

In an effort to break this tradition, this past Sunday night, we take Mama Greek out for dinner.

I’m going to say right now that these have not been my best days with regards to Mama Greek. I don’t know why, and it does not feel good. My patience with her, which I realize wasn’t the best at the best of times, is disappearing.  As hard as I try, as much as I tell myself to be compassionate, and put myself in her shoes, and do it for Tony, and just fake it, I can’t seem to smile through her stories or pretend I enjoy the cheek-pinching the way I used to. I am not proud of this.  I have no idea how to deal with it, but it’s the truth.

Anyway: Sunday night.  We go to Garage Beirut, an amazing, cheap, Lebanese - coincidentally, three words that also describe me - restaurant downtown.  When we take Mama Greek to restaurants, Tony and I always order, since she doesn’t read English (the reason for the existence of most of my blog posts.)  But MG is a fan of good food, and Lebanese and Greek cuisines are similar enough.  I’m sure she’s going to love it.

I am so wrong.

It starts with the stuffed grape leaves, which I offer to Mama Greek when they arrive.

She shakes her head. “Why? I can eat dolmades at home.” 

She refuses the hummus, and the baba ganoush, because she doesn’t like “soft food.”  (I don’t point out that tzatziki and taramosalata are “hard” food.)  She looks suspiciously at the salad, and really only eats the meat.  Obviously, I take this personally.

At first, I try to laugh it off.  I point at all the plates on the table and name all the food, the way she does when we’re at her place.

“Fattoush?”  I offer.  “Chicken? Beef? Grilled pepper?”  But there’s an edge to my voice.  Tony shoots me a look.  I back off.

Mama Greek launches into a story about how her nephew came to pick her up last Saturday. 

“I see white car, but in front of the Turkish.” (‘The Turkish’ is how she refers to the Turkish people next door.)  “And Peter has red car, so I think it’s not Peter.  I wait at the door, I wait, I wait, but no Peter.  I think, ‘who is this car in front of the Turkish?’ I wait, I wait.  Finally, Peter call from the celery phone.  He’s in front of the Turkish! He has a new car!”

As she is telling this story, Tony looks at me.

“You look so bored,” he says, laughing.

He can do this because Mama Greek’s hearing isn’t great, and if you speak at a normal tone of voice from across the table, she won’t catch a word you say.

“How are the neighbours?” I ask her, brightly.

I already know the answer to this question, but I’m not sure what else to inquire about.  MG describes Maria’s leg problems and how she’s looking into moving into a senior’s home, and tells us how Effie wants to move into a condo. 

“What are you going to do there all by yourself?” I hear myself say. 

Whatthefuckareyoudoing? My inside voice screams. Where are you going with this? THIS IS DANGEROUS!  TAKE IT BACK!

MG laughs.  “I be okay.”

“Why don’t you move closer to us?”


“You mean, upstairs from you?” MG asks.

“No,” I say, panicking.  “I mean, um, down the street.  Or… on another street.”

MG sighs.  “Natalie,” she says, and coincidentally, Tony chooses this moment to leap up and cross the restaurant ask the owner about the 1970s Arabic music he’s playing on the stereo.

“If God gives you baby,” Mama Greek says, “then maybe I come every day.  Stay two, three hours, then go home.”

I know that my eyes have gone wide, and that my face has become very pale.  Clearly MG doesn’t notice.  She adds,

“Because when that baby come, you not go back to work.”

I put down my fork.  “Um, yes I do.”

“Well,” MG acquiesces, “maybe in three, four years.”

I grip the tablecloth.

“In one year.”

Tony is still chatting with the restaurant owner.  I shoot invisible knives at the back of his head.

“Anyway,” MG says, earnestly.  “Don’t think about it too much.”

“I don’t have to think about it,” I say, digging my nails into my thighs.  

“No, I mean don’t think too much about getting pregnant.”

I stop digging.  This is new.  This is strange.  This is… suspicious.

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” Mama Greek says, “I hear so many stories. Women adopt baby, then get pregnant. If you think about it too much, maybe that’s the problem.”

My jaw drops open.  This is woman who has made announcements at crowded dinner parties about how we need to "get busy" and give her a grandchild.  This is a woman who talks about babies the way 12-year olds talk about Robert Pattison.  This is a woman who has stated that she will not die until there is a baby Asimakopoulos.

Very slowly, I say, “I don’t think that’s the problem.”

Thank Christ and all his holy disciples, that’s when Tony returns to the table.

He sits down. 

I start kicking him in the shin, very hard.

“Ma,” he says, “stop talking.”

“Okay, okay!” she holds up her hand in her usual “who, me?” fashion.

He pats my hand under the table.  I take a deep breath.  Put yourself in her shoes.  Just fake it.  Do it for Tony.

I point to one of the plates on the table.  “Tabbouleh?” I offer.

Mama Greek shakes her head, clearly disgusted by the idea.

And because I can, and because this is the only thing I can think to do aside from run screaming from the restaurant, I try to look hurt and push the plate in front of her.

“What’s the matter?" I ask.  "Why don’t you like tabbouleh?

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