previously: Run it! ch9: memorial
I made my way to the outdoor stage, walking behind Prayikina and June. They talked and laughed before going their separate ways at the stage. Seeing my cousin interacting with her nana, I was feeling genuinely depressed. All my life, I wish I had someone like June; a kind elderly grandmother with wisdom beyond her years. I was about to check my makeup (since I was certain I had been crying) when I heard a familiar voice.
“Hello, Elena-screeeeech. Oops sorry.” My grandma fumbled with the microphone, attempting to put it back on the podium. “Now that all of the speakers have arrived we can begin.” Seated on stage were Principal Sam, his wife Megan, Aunt Erica, and Uncle Akira.”
“Where’s my mom?” I asked as I took a seat beside Prayikina.
Instead of addressing my question, my tall, supermodel-like grandma, wearing a suit that cost more than most people made in a year, spoke into the mic, “My daughter, Alicia, Remy Moceanu’s widow, has made the decision to not attend this memorial service. Luckily I am the executor of my son-in-law’s estate, so it is my decision and mine alone that this memorial will proceed.”
“Oh, ok,” I said out loud. This was going to be awkward, as there was no way in hell my mom didn’t know about an outdoor memorial taking place on campus.
Prayikina, however, was in a much more positive mood. “Daddy!” she said as she poked as Uncle Akira’s shoulder. “Nana’s here!”
Akira, in his white suit, looked to the crowd. Despite his sadness, the sight of June caused him to smile. “So she is. Today is truly blessed.”
The first to deliver a speech was speech was Megan, speaking about her time at the school, and her loving admiration for my father.
Although I adored Megan, this seemed like a good time to flip through my dad’s notebook. ‘Lobster Beef Wellington, Oyster Rockefeller Pizza, Scorpion shellfish Soba; each recipe has several illustrations. Some were of the final dish, while others were of measurements and ingredients.
“Hey, that was your recipe from the prelims,” Prayikina said, looking over my shoulder. “That was so fun; Principal Sam making edible insects the theme of the Freshman finals. I always loved eating bugs, the flavor really mimics a seafood taste.”
When Principal Sam looked over I was fully expecting him to tell us to shush, but that was not the case. “Can I see?” he asked in a whisper.
I slipped the book between the rows of chairs, leaving it open on the page I had been looking at.
“Wow,” he said softly, his voice breaking with emotion. “Your father deconstructed every one of your competition recipes.”
He closed the book, handing it back. I took a closer look; each and every entry had suggestions on how to make each dish better.
I turned to the last page, which seemed to be thicker than the others. The recipe was one I had never seen before, ‘Elena’s sunrise soup.’ I was about to read the recipe when I noticed a hidden flap. The page was taped together to form a pocket, and inside was a perfectly folded envelope. I carefully opened the origami, to reveal my father’s handwriting.
‘Dear Elena Rose,
When you read this I will be long gone from this world. I thought a lot about what I want in this life, for you. I want you to have the one thing that always seemed out of reach for me. That is: I want you to be happy.
Having you in my life was the closest I ever came. But now you’re all grown up, and if dating the rapper son of Slate Mimasaka makes you happy, that’s all I could ever ask for. You have a light, a pure spark of artistry, creativity, and just a passion for life.’
After that sentence, the writing became noticeably shakier.
‘You and Jamie make such a great team. And as you recall, I promised you both I would tell you how I passed training camp. So, here it is – Elena Kurokiba’s Chili-egg soup. This is the recipe that cleared me 200 plates. I have it committed to memory, but I figure it should be written down someplace, so it, like my dear mother, is never forgotten.’
Tears flowed down my cheeks. Was it even possible to miss someone I’d never met? My father spoke very little about his mother. (I always assumed it was because it made my mom uncomfortable to see him as human.
only that I had her name because he always knew I would be worthy of her name.
The recipe called for seawater, canned tomatoes, and chilies, boiled with fish scraps then the whole thing was topped with an egg that was scrambled as the soup cooked, so add richness. There were other optional ingredients that were added if they could be afforded, like dried shrimp, or squid. This was the food of the working poor. This was a life I never had to know.
‘Growing up my family was very poor, some days this was all I had to eat. But the warmth always soothed the pain in my stomach. Your grandmother created this recipe, but it was the last thing I cooked for her the day she died.’
I knew the story of the day my grandmother died. My grandfather had been a fisherman, which was always a dangerous occupation. When My dad was just a kid, his father’s boat had been in a bad storm. The wreckage from the boat was recovered but no bodies were ever found. So, essentially he was buried at sea.
My dad’s mother worked in the fish market cleaning and preparing fish for display. If she was lucky she would get moved to the dining area to cook for the tourists. There she would be allowed to take home food scraps. But for the past week, she had been too sick to work.
So my dad, being the bad-ass he was, went down to the fish market. He tied on his little apron in front of all of his mother’s co-workers and the tourists. This was a powerplay.
As expected, the large intimidating man who ran the market took one look at my father and wanted to send him home, saying something like, “I’m not letting work your mother’s shift.” But my father couldn’t go home.
“Please sir, my mother is sick, we have no money for food or medicine.” A crowd was forming around him. My father knew that all he had to do was stand strong.
“I’m not letting some kid into my market! Tell your mother to get her ass into work or consider herself fired!” The man shoved my father, causing the little boy to fall backward hitting his head on a rock.
Without any further words, my father stood up, wiping the blood from his eyes, and walked towards the butchery station. He picked up his mother’s knives from her station and went to work.
“Kid, what do you think you’re doing?!” As the man grabbed my father, he suddenly felt a knife pressing against his throat.
“Yuri- you leave that child alone!’ The female worker screamed. She, like all the women, held massive collections of knives and they knew how to use them.
“That boy is Elena’s son!” All of the other workers agreed. “Let him stay! He knows more about cooking then you do!”
With that sea of support, my father was allowed to stay. Although small he worked as hard as his mother’s co-workers. If he struggled someone was always willing to help. At the end of the day, the entire market gave the remarkable little boy their tip jars.
My father was grateful, bowing down to his mother’s co-workers. “I thank you for your trust and kindness, but please return the tip money, it’s too much.”
A muscular elderly woman stepped forward. “All of the tourists were asking about the boy with the amazing knife skills. Take this money and go to the herbalist.”
My father did as she said and returned home with food and medicine. “Mama?”
His mother had been coughing up blood, too weak to move from her bed. “Is that you, my love?”
“Please Mama, let me cook for you.”
“Where did you get money for food? Did you steal?”
“No, Mama, I would never,” the little boy said as he tended to the fire. “I made a promise to Papa.”
“Then how?” she asked, as she struggled to sit up.
“Yulia, Ekaterina, even Dmitry they convinced Yuri to let me work your shift.” The little boy was even able to afford some fuel for the small charcoal stove. (A fact he was especially proud of.) He put on some water and made the simple soup.
The next morning he awoke in his mother’s arms. Her body was already cold.
I quickly finished the letter. ‘I miss my mother so much which was why I wanted you to have her name. From the moment I first held you in my arms I wanted so badly for you to inherit her strength, and you have.’ That part I already knew. ‘Take my edits to your recipes as suggestions; you can always do better, and you will do better because you are my daughter.’
I looked up just in time to see Aunt Erica approach to the mic for her speech. “What can I say about the remarkable life of Remy Moceanu. He was someone who we all adored.”
A voice shouted in the distance, “You f–king bitch! “
“Is that your mom?” Prayikina asked.
I lowered my head, wishing I could sink into the ground. “Do you even have to ask?”
My mother shoved her way to the stage. “I cannot believe you people!”
Aunt Erica, still holding the mic attempted to block my mother from the side stairs. “You people? You mean Remy’s real family?”
“I wanted him buried in Denmark!” my mother screamed.
“I know,” my grandmother replied in her usual calm tone. “Dear daughter, that was why I had your late husband draw up a will.”
“Remy was mine! I deserved to have a place where I could always find him!”
My grandma was about to speak when Erica stepped between them. “Let me guess, you wanted him to be your attendant for all eternity? Your personal property! Remy deserved better than that!” She balled up her fist. “I’m surprised you actually wanted to bury him. I would have guessed you had plans to have him stuffed and used to decorate your living room!”
With that, my mother punched Aunt Erica in the face, all while containing to shout an array of curse words in several different languages.
“Enough!” shouted Principal Sam. Once again he had to hold back my mother while Akira held back Aunt Erica.
“Any idea why they fight?” Prayikina asked.
I cupped my hands over my face. “I figure it’s because Because your mom is so much cooler than mine.”
My cousin stayed by my side as the funeral adjourned, even collecting my portion of the ashes. “You can pretend to be admiring the urn, until everyone from school leaves.”
“Thanks.” The last thing I wanted was to attempt to walk through a sea of my classmates on my way back tot he dorms. “Hey, Prayikina?”
“Where did your name come from?” I realized, in all the years I’d known her, I never asked. Part of me just assumed it had some kind of meaning to her father’s culture.
“My dad made it up,” she said with a shrug.
“Your dad made it up?” I found that hard to believe.
“Yeah, you heard my Nan’s story; it was the first thing that came to mind. And my mom just went with it.”
“Your mom just went with it?” I said with a giggle. “I’m sorry that’s just hilarious.”
“I get you,” she said giggling along with me. “My mom’s a total control freak, it’s hard to picture her without a big list of classical names, like Katherine or Elizabeth. Did your mom like the name Elena, or was it what she knew you were meant to be called when the doctor put you in her arms?”
“I like to think it was the one major gift she gave to my father. But I like your theory as well. The moment I was put in her arms, she knew I was meant to be Elena Rose; half my name being from my fishmonger grandmother and the other half being something more upscale and classy. I’ll bet you anything she wanted to name me Rose or Lily.”
“I guess it’s a feeling we’ll experience when we have our own kids,” my cousin said with a shrug. “It’s kind of funny how, despite how much our mom’s hate each other, how similar their lives ended up. They both married orphans, and gave birth to daughters who looked nothing like them.” She placed her purse upon her laps, fishing out my father’s stress balls. She rolled them around in her hand like a fidget toy. “I hope Uncle Remy doesn’t mind.”
“Doesn’t mind what?”
“His last request, that I shove his balls in mom and Aunt Ali’s mouths to shut them up. I figure that would be disrespectful to his memory. And it might get me in trouble with my father.”
“And your mother, and Principal Sam…” In my train of thought, I was just listing off people who were less toxic than my mother.
“Hey, remember the first time I asked to play with your dad’s balls? Well, the first time in front of my parents, anyway.”
“Yeah I do,” I said with a smirk. “We were five, I think. My family visited Denmark, and your dad picked us up at the airport.” I reached for my cousin’s hand. “I came with them because I missed you so much. But my mom was more than ready to leave me behind with some random nanny.”
Prayikina laughed. “Do you remember what I said to your dad?”
I nodded. “You asked if you could see his balls.”
“No, I said ‘Uncle Remy, will you let me play with your balls, like last time?'”
Now we were both doubled over with laughter. “Oh, God. I do remember that!”
“Your dad started shouting, specifying the stress balls. So much fun.” Prayikina touched the metal urn, rolling the stress balls along the side. “Right, Uncle Remy? I’ll bet this is exactly how you pictured your funeral.”
I couldn’t help but smile through my tears. Looking up at the light of the bright afternoon sun, I felt at peace. I was no longer sad, but rather hopeful for the future. This felt right.
“So, Ellie,” Prayikina said as she stood up. “What are you going to do with your portion of the ashes?”
“I don’t really know.” Did I want to keep him around like a glorified souvenir? I heard about people putting ashes into pendants or even tattoos, but that would make me as bad as my mother. My father deserved to be free. I stood up, and at that moment, I felt a gust of wind caress my cheek. Without a second thought, I opened the urn and flung the ashes towards the sky. The dust went straight up, like a tornado of color racing towards the sun. That felt so right; my father was where he belonged, finally free.
“That is so cool,” Prayikina said as she watched the ashes quickly dissipate into the air. “Maybe he’ll become a cloud and rain down on his old hometown.”
I nodded, blinking away tears. “Or maybe he’ll reunite with his father. My grandpa has to be out there somewhere, right?”
“Yeah, totally.” Prayikina patted my back. “I’m just glad you’re not as pissed as your mom was about not having a place where you can visit him.”
“Well, you’re wrong about that,” I said with a smirk.
“I am? You mean you are pissed?” Praykina asked, fully aware of my humor. “Because if you’re turning into your mother, I need to know so I can get your boyfriend someplace safe.”
“No, I’m not turning into my mom,” I said laughing so hard I gripped my side. “But in regards to my father, I do have a place where I can visit him.” I kissed the notebook holding it close to my heart. “Anytime I want.” I would always know how proud he was of me, and how hard he fought to give me the life his parents could only have dreamed of. “I think I’m ready to head back to the dorms.”
Prayikina held out her arm and we walked together like schoolgirls, the same as we always had. “Are you pissed at your mom for crashing the memorial?”
“No,” I said honestly. “I pretty much knew what everyone was going to say. She just saved me an afternoon of awkwardly sitting on stage.”
“Did you have a speech prepared?”
“No, did you?”
My cousin blushed, looking awkwardly at her feet. “Kind of.”
“Let me rephrase the question; did you have an appropriate funeral speech prepared or were you going to tell the entire school the story of my dad’s balls?”
Prayikina took out the balls, swirling them in her free hand. “You know me too well.”
“I swear I’m going to get you in the finals,” I muttered as we cut across the wet grass.
“You’re going to get me?” she said, kicking off her high-heeled shoes. “Sorry these belong to Gigi, she’ll kill me if I ruin them.”
“While I might not be able to beat you in competition, I will make sure you feel as awkward as I do.”
Kiki giggled as we got back on the path. “I can’t wait to see that.”
“You do know that half the school thinks your dad is the hottest professor, on-campus right?”
“What does that have to do with me?”
“He’ll be judging in the finals,” I said with a snicker. “I’m going to have fun!”
next: Run it! ch 11