I listened as I heard a soft noise coming from downstairs. My grandparents were trying not to wake the rest of us. My family slept upstairs, and my grandparents’ room was on the main floor. “Aloisia, how can you sleep?” I poked my sister, but she brushed my hand away. I prodded her again to make sure she wanted to sleep and frowned as she remained silent. It was warm under the covers, and I knew the room would be chilly. I pulled back the down comforter and dropped to the floor with a thud. Aloisia rolled over as if she didn’t hear me. Dressing as quickly as possible, I fumbled on the floor trying to find my shoes, and tossed hers out of my way. I peered up on the bed, and she lay quietly. I slipped on the floor several times as I put my shoes on and made my way to the door. I turned around and looked at her as my hand slipped on the door knob and abruptly slammed shut again. Still she slept. Reluctantly, I opened the door and walked down the stairs.
Oma and Opa stopped talking when I walked in the kitchen, Oma smiled at me and changed the subject. “Gute Morgan Hanna, come, sit.” My grandmother motioned me to sit beside her. “What was that noise upstairs?”
“Aloisia didn’t want me to wake up yet, and hid my shoes,” I said as I sat down next to her. I could smell Oma’s coffee, and I asked if I could have some. Oma poured milk in my cup, and filled the rest with coffee. She carefully spooned some sugar, and stirred my cup.
“Be careful, its hot. Sip it slowly.” Oma left the spoon for me, and I dipped it in my cup and lightly blew to cool it off like she taught me. I sipped the warm sweet liquid, and smiled. Opa quietly watched us, but didn’t say anything as he went back to reading.
I sat quietly beside my grandmother, happy to be with her. The room was somber, and warm as the fire crackled in the stove. I could smell bread rising. We drank our coffee as Oma read her paper. I was careful not to clank my spoon against my cup, or I would get a sour look from my grandfather. It was still dark outside, but I thought I heard a bird or two begin to sing. Tink. I looked at my grandfather, and said “I’m sorry” and he returned to his book. I easily swung my legs back and forth, but was careful to stop when I took a sip. I bumped Oma but she only looked down at me, smiled and patted my leg. Oma frowned as she resumed reading. “What’s the matter Oma, can you read it to me?”
“Liebling, let me see if I can find a story you might like.” She flipped through the paper and found a story for me. “Listen to this, the zoo in Budapest has a new animal, a hippopotamus and its name is Hanna.”
“Oma, you made that up.”
“No I didn’t, look…” and she pointed out the letters to me. My grandmother never lied to me, so I had to believe it was true. I had never been to Budapest; it was too far away. My mind drifted to imagine what a zoo would look like. Would it have monkeys? Elephants? I tried to remember the picture book she read to me, but all I could imagine was oxen, cows, rabbits and chickens. We had plenty of those. Our neighbors had a horse.
I felt one of my pigtails pulled, and looked to see Oma gently holding the soft brown braid in her hand. I noticed her fingers were long and narrow, calloused from a lifetime of hard work. I lifted my hand up to place my palm against hers. My whole hand rested in her palm, barely covering it. “When will my hands be as big a yours?” She just smiled and massaged my hand in hers. I noticed her knuckles were swollen, and larger. “Will my hands look like yours one day?”
“Perhaps” she said, and that was all. “Come, finish your coffee.” And Oma got up and opened the oven door and then put the bread in to bake. Soon the whole kitchen was filled with the fragrance, and the aroma wafted upstairs. I knew it would wake the rest of the family, and our quiet would be disrupted. We left our cups on the table, mine next to hers, as I helped her set the table. Oma handed me a few plates at a time, as I held out both arms. I carried them to the table and soon we had seven place settings ready for our family. “Let’s see if the bread is ready.”
“Can I help?” And I watched as my grandmother grabbed two hot pads and slowly opened the oven door. The smell intensified, and I could almost taste it. Oma pulled four loaves out, one at a time and placed them beside the stove to cool. She brushed each loaf with the butter that I brought to her.
Oma spooned some bacon grease into the large cast iron skillet warming on the burner. She cracked a dozen eggs into a bowl, scrambled them, and then poured it into the skillet. The eggs bubbled and cooked quickly, and Oma stirred them with the spatula. We looked at each other as we heard footsteps upstairs, indicating our special time together would soon be over.