When I was a kid, every month or so, on a designated morning, my mom and aunts would gather in the kitchen, clear the table, sprinkle it with thick, white dust, form a couple of volcanoes in the middle, add stuff to the craters, and begin to knead.
Later, rolling pins and wine glasses would join the setting, while they stood over their dough balls and rolled them out to the desired perfect thin. Using the wine glass rims, they’d cut out perfect circles, throw perfect teaspoonfuls of minced beef and onions, maybe garlic, I don’t remember, and tie them into perfect pelmeni (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelmeni).
I remember their white-goo-covered hands holding cigarettes while they took a break, their obsessive counting of how many pelmeni they’d made, as if it was a competition with last month, the bags full of the frozen dumplings in our freezer, but most of all, their sweat and the hours this activity consumed. And then, how little time it took everyone to eat their efforts.
I must have been around 10 when I silently swore to myself I would never do anything like this, especially not for any man. Plus, I hated the stuff. Eventually, I was forced to join this sacred ritual, though I was only ever entrusted with the wine glass cutting part. My lack of enthusiasm and no thirst to learn were soon accepted, though with frowns and head shakes.
Fast forward yourself to an odd three decades later. I’m in my mid-forties.
Picture me in my kitchen, a few minutes after I’ve finally put my toddler to bed. There’s flour, there’s a volcano, there’s olive oil, salt, and sugar. And I’m kneading. Only my mission is to create the perfect pizza dough ball. And this is no sisterly social event, it’s just me.
The memories above came like fireworks during the second or third time I picked up that rolling pin. I’d rummaged through my mom’s kitchen to find it, we obviously did not have one in the house. I think it’s the same on she used back then, and I will never give it back because she has not used it since she left that house. I could suddenly hear their chatter, smell the mushroom soup that was simmering on the stove behind them, smell their smoke, feel their pain, listen to their thoughts.
I stand and knead, drops of sweat bounce of my perfect dough ball, its a hot summer night and no matter how many years go by, my Russian makeup just can’t stand the heat. I know it’s just water and salt, I smile as I picture my family and friends nibbling on a slice tomorrow, and I gloat about my history, my past, the women and men that have kneaded me into what I am right now; a stay-at-home mom making dough. For we are all one perfect recipe of our past.