“There’s one in every family!”: A Special Place We’ll Always Remember

All of us can recall a special place that brings back certain important or special memories. Whether it’s the house we grew up in, a favorite family vacation spot, the school we attended, or where we met our spouse or partner. For me, the one place I will always remember is my Baba’s Kitchen.

Some of my fondest memories from childhood are the times spent in my Baba’s (Grandma’s) kitchen. I remember spending many Friday evenings in her two-story house on Hill Street in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, surrounded by my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Dressed in her blue and white cotton housedress, quilted slippers, and a white babushka (scarf) around her head, my Slovak “Baba”* stood over her stove for what seemed like hours, preparing chicken soup, mouthwatering golden buns dusted with flour, and lemon pie—all made without reference to a written recipe. Even today, I can recall the delightful aromas of fresh bread baking in the oven, the chicken soup slowly simmering in the large, “bottomless,” white enamel pot on the stove, and browning butter in the old black iron skillet.

Then there were the holidays. In the Slovak culture, food is richly entwined with tradition and religious teachings, especially for Christmas and Easter, when special dishes are prepared and rituals observed. For example, on Christmas Eve, we celebrated with a meatless Vilia Supper (to honor the Christian practice of fasting) and ate foods like: bobalky, perfectly baked little balls of dough browned in butter and mixed with sauerkraut, and pirohi, ravioli-like pillows of dough filled with cabbage, cottage cheese, potato, or prunes.

At Easter, we ate paska, a round bread with a golden crust and yellow center made from eggs, butter, and white raisins (indicative of living bread come down from Heaven) and hrudka, a bland, sweet, custard-like “cheese” made from cooked and separated eggs and milk (as a symbol of moderation).

Whatever the occasion, “Baba’s” kitchen functioned as the center of her home. It was where this soft-spoken Slovak woman spent the majority of her days as wife, mother, and grandmother, preserving the traditions of her homeland. There, in her domain, she also assumed other important roles of comforter, teacher, disciplinarian, financial manager, and instiller of religious teachings, morals and values.

The kitchen also became the place where some of life’s most important lessons were taught and learned. Simple principles of generosity and honesty and, above all, a genuine love for her family that Grandma taught by example. Moreover, for me it was in this kitchen where the genealogical seeds were planted, eventually sparking a quest to discover facts about this amazing woman, along with the desire to preserve our family’s history for future generations.

At this time of the year, as everyone gears up for the holiday season, it’s not unusual to get a bit nostalgic—to reminisce about Christmases past, remember loved ones who are no longer physically present with us, and celebrate those traditions of our ethnic heritage that mean so much to us.

For me, all of the above memories, as well as holiday celebrations will forever be associated with my Baba’s Kitchen.

This post is part of Carnival of Genealogy’s 100th Edition, “There is One in Every Family” hosted by Jasia of Creative Gene. Congratulations to Creative Gene for 100 Editions of Carnival of Genealogy!

*In some regions of Slovakia, the term is used for “grandmother.”
**This post includes excerpts from my essay, “My Baba,” written for the 2004 “Write Your Memoir Contest,” for which I received an “Honorable Mention”

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo
All Rights Reserved


TribLive Article Mentions Presentation on Three Slovak Women

I was honored to kick off the McKeesport Heritage Center’s Summer Speaker Series last Saturday.  I presented “Three Slovak Women: Telling The Story of One Slovak-American Family Using Oral History.”  In the audience:  one of my former teachers, and a long-time friend of my father’s, as well a delightful 99-year old woman named Mary who has an amazing spunk and energy.

Click here to read an article on TribLive about my presentation.