5th February 2020
Last week we were in Szatmár County again to tell a story, and the next day Enikő arranged that we all visit Aunt Ilonka. We knew we weren’t going to collect tales, but it’s always good to talk to the elderly, there’s a lot of good to learn from them, and I especially love their life stories. Aunt Ilonka greeted me with a set table, the smell of the chicken broth immediately engaged my nose, and I immediately knew that this was the moment when my diet plan was going to collapse. Not to mention the amount and assortiment of drinks lined up on the table: plum brandy, pomace, sour cherry liqueur, cognac, beer, wine. You have to drink all this, Aunt Ilonka encouraged us. We looked at each other laughing, with little concern in our eyes, for we already knew that this old generation does not joke around. Especially not in villages. I quickly slammed down on the sour cherry liqueur, I was sure I would survive a few glasses of that, and what I didn’t drink, I had to bring it home.
Well, I didn’t mind that much.
We filled our glasses, said toasts, had lunch, and Aunt Ilonka ran around us serving us with her 80 years, like a tornado princess. There was no way to get her to sit at the table with us, but at least her sister sat down. She rarely spoke, she just played on the zither sometimes. And Aunt Ilonka didn’t run out of hilarious jokes and puns. Oh, these could sound so professional in folk tales, I thought I should turn on the dictaphone, but it was still too early. Then, out of the blue, an old woman arrived and hesitantly stood waiting in the door. Aunt Ilonka scolded her for not calling her on the phone before coming, as she had us, guests. “I came from far, I won’t go going home!” Said the old woman.
“All right, then rest a little, sit down outside, I’ll tend to my guests and then I ‘ll tend to you.” said Aunt Ilonka. The old woman finally decided to go over to the neighbor and then come back later. After she left, it turned out that her tooth ached and she had come to Aunt Ilonka to have it extracted. ” Do you deal with pulling out teeth too, Aunt Ilonka?”
We looked each other in amazement, and she just giggled cheerfully, “Oh, it just takes a few twists and it’s out.”
We resumed eating, and could barely move from all those delicious, homemade meals. Then Aunt Ilonka’s sister pulls out a booklet containing a story that they wrote with her child as homework, and gladly read it out loud. “Great,” I said, “get the dictaphone ready! This is the perfect moment.” I couldn’t determine exactly what they remembered from the original tale and what they added to it themselves, but we had a great time, the tale was about how the pigeon builds its nest, but in a very original version. Then we asked Aunt Ilonka about her youth and she told us wonderful things about her young age, war, traditions, love. We were amazed by all the things this little, thin, short woman had gone through, and despite a ton of hardships and losses, she was able to stay so cheerful; many bitter young people could learn from her. Of course, the dictaphone didn’t help the conversation much, I didn’t record the jokes, but it was still marvelous to listen to her.
Then all of a sudden, the old woman, with a sore tooth, came back. Aunt Ilonka smiled at us. She excused herself, explaining that it surely must be painful, so she went to take care of assuring us, she would come back soon. We looked at each other. “Are you seriously going to pull out the woman’s tooth now? Using what? “She used to extract with a this pair of pliers here, she even pulled out one of my teeth with those.” said her sister, “but she received a proper tool, that dentists use, from her son.”
From the kitchen, where Aunt Ilonka went approx. 1 minute ago, laughter can be heard, and a few moments later, she returned, the old woman had left too. “Did you manage?” we asked. “Of course! Seven, with one pull. ” replied Aunt Ilonka chuckling. ” The tooth came out together with the bridge!”
” Any painkillers?” ” Yes, I gave her some brandy to rinse, but she swallowed it, there was nothing to spit out.” “I told her,” said Aunt Ilonka,“ to spit in the bowl here, but, oops, it slipped down.”
They both laughed. While laughing, she extracted the tooth, the old woman left laughing with one tooth less, and we all laughed. We have never witnessed such a cheerful tooth extraction. It’s hard to say goodbye. It was like leaving our grandmother, though I don’t know what it’s like when Grandma wants to pack everything up for you, but I would like to believe I know what it would have been like to have such a grandmother. We had to take home what we didn’t drink, luckily we managed to leave a bottle or two behind, but we got homemade soup noodles, the snail shaped ones! Then we visited another old lady, just for a few words, until Aunt Ilonka’s sister brought pickles for everyone, paprika and gherkins, and the other lady also gave us a few litres of brandy. I look forward to coming back. Not for the brandy, but for Aunt Ilonka, and her stories.