This fall break, my father, younger sister, and I visited my father’s family in Washington state; I prepared to practice my Ukrainian language and eating skills since my whole family is Ukrainian.Upon arrival at my grandparents’ apartment, we were greeted by the smell of kishka, my father’s favorite food and, incidentally, second only in odorous rankness to burning human flesh. If a genie had offered to grant me one wish, I would’ve wished that kishka had a colorless, odorless gas so that I could’ve died in peace.
Kishka is a Ukrainian delicacy that directly translates into English as ‘intestine.’ It is just this: a pig’s small intestine stuffed with mashed potato and fried heavily in grease, motor oil from abandoned Soviet vehicles, and the liquefied BO of Ukrainian Cossacks.
It was at this point 4:30 a.m. EST, but I still had the strength to lecture them about the importance of quality teas as they set before me a box full of Lipton tea bags. My dad, guzzling poison (Pepsi), interjected that the very fine tea dust is better because it is ground up by young, attractive people with good teeth, and loose-leaf tea only exists because the older tea processors have less teeth. I realized I would make no headway in my quest to educate the country on the importance of quality tea brewing.
The next morning and afternoon were spent listening to scary stories told by our seven younger cousins aged 3-13 which involved many stinkbugs, dead children, and bodily functions. These are all things I am curious about now, so it’s good to know they are maturing at an appropriate rate.
Dinner at my aunt’s house the next evening was blessedly kishka-free. Utilizing a bathroom scale, I conducted the following experiment.
Hypothesis: if my uncle is as good a cook as I remember, then I won’t be able to button my pants after this.
Data: pre-dinner: 122.2 lbs.
Post-dinner: 125.7 lbs.
Conclusion: An unconscious Irina lying on the bathroom floor, done in by sweet homegrown cucumbers, tomatoes, grilled sausages, pomegranates, mandarin oranges, cumquats, grilled shrimp, baked potato wedges…where was I?
I awoke the next morning dazed and perplexed, unsure how I had arrived at the bed I was in; tendrils of a mustard-gas like substance were creeping in underneath the door. It was the return of kishka. If I had been allowed to tell any scary stories, you can guess mine would’ve involved this offensive entree along with stinkbugs and bodily functions.
After breakfast, we traveled with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins (and even a great-aunt and -uncle thrown in) to Spokane to do some mushroom hunting in the sweet, fresh mountain air of the Snoqualmie Pass. We crawled through dense masses of verdant vegetation in search of king boletes and anything else that was edible.
This was followed by a trip to Snoqualmie Falls, another feast, and dessert at my grandparent’s apartment where kishka was once again cooked for my uncle Vitaliy.
At the end of the trip, after ingesting so much celebratory grease and sugar, my guts felt like I’d eaten a bag full of crayons. And not even Crayola crayons—probably RoseArt or whichever other crayons aren’t cool these days.
I was definitely ready to come home to our beloved Goshen, but I won’t hide the fact that I blubbered over every single member of the family before we left. I marked the whole rabble with my salt; my tears were tiny tags with which I can track their migration patterns.