By Diana Norma Szokolyai
My grandmother, Mamuska, lives by the seasons. At the end of summer, she said over the phone that she would soon leave the River Körös, but that she would return in October, in time for the harvest. She harvests walnuts, dió. The walnut tree, diófa, that my grandfather, Papuska, planted. The source of the very dió stored in my pantry. In my pantry in my house by the sea. The dió that I grind and mix with sugar and put on my palacsinta, thin Hungarian crepes. The dió that my spouse, Déneske, puts on his salad and declares so flavorful, the dió that I always save a few of because I never want to be out of them. Thus, a small portion goes stale in the bag and then just sits there. I don’t throw them out until Mamuska brings a new batch the next year, many months after she has harvested the dió, after carrying them home on the train that snakes past the endless sunflower fields, after wrapping them in cloth and storing them in her pantry in the cozy cottage that Papuska built her by the river.
Then, about a month and a half after Christmas, Mamuska takes the dió out of her pantry. She puts them in resealable sandwich bags, rolling them up in her clothes that she puts in her suitcase that she brings across the ocean. Brings to me. She gives the gifts of the dió to me, and I put them in my pantry. I only eat some, never all. This is how our pantries are altars.
I don’t have any ashes of Papuska. Yet, I have the seeds of the tree that he planted. I have memories of him stopping on our walks, picking up dió and giving them to me, stooping down with a smile, opening his palm to reveal a single, wondrous walnut. Cracking it open, I would half expect to find a baby fairy inside, like those embroidered Hungarian baby doll ornaments crafted into a walnut cradle that would hang from the tree at Christmas. Mamuska and I repeat the ritual of this gifting each year. This is how we honor him. This is how he honors us.
The dió continues to nourish and ground Mamuska. The walnuts are constant, always there to harvest. They always show up. They are always steady. She can depend on them. When Papuska planted this walnut tree, he meant it to be rooted firmly, faithfully bearing fruit each fall. But did he foresee that she would continue the annual harvest for over twenty-five years after his passing? She keeps caring for this walnut tree, and it cares for her. The walnuts are never abandoned on the ground. She has a purpose for them. She carefully plans her trips home from the country cottage each year, always after the walnut harvest. I keep receiving the dió.
God, let me churn out even some of the nourishment Mamuska churns out of the earth and gives to others; I will be grateful.
Diana Norma Szokolyai is a writer, editor, and teacher. Her books are CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos & Sourcebook for Creative Writing, Parallel Sparrows, and Roses in the Snow. Her poetry manuscript Milk & Water was a finalist for Hunger Mountain’s 2020 May Day Mountain chapbook series. Her poetry was also shortlisted for the 2018 Bridport Prize and received honorable mention in the 87th Annual Writer’s Digest Competition. Her work has been published in MER VOX Quarterly, VIDA, Quail Bell Magazine, The Boston Globe, Luna Luna Magazine and has been anthologized in Other Countries: Contemporary Poets Rewiring History, Teachers As Writers, and Die Morgendämmerung der Worte Moderner Poesie-Atlas der Roma und Sinti. Her poetry – music collaborations have hit the Creative Commons Hot 100 list and been featured on WFMU-FM. She is co-founder and Artistic Director of Chagall Performance Art Collaborative and the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop.