Mine was predestined, you see. Summer school break lasted three moths; in early June grandmother Embroideress and i would board the train to the old country, carrying the provisions in wicker food baskets. The journey across former Austro-Hungarian Empire would take two days and we would have at least two main meals and five or six snacks until we would reach its once North-West border and the former Duchy where she was from.
Preparing the baskets beforehand was time consuming and would take considerable amount of logistics – breaded chicken, meatballs stuffed with eggs, sourdough bouls, fluffy crescents and wafer cake cut into bite size pieces would be wrapped in foil and placed in the basket alongside plaid cloths, plastic glasses and sour apple juice in thick green bottles; these elaborated movable feasts were the highlight of the journey.
I would be mostly reading and napping until the train reached Hungarian border and busy customs officers rushed through the compartments greeting travelers Jó napot kívánok while quickly scanning their passports; soon after that, the bulging train would depart making plethora of noises – roaring, squealing and honking- as if it was kvetching about the heavy burden that had befallen it…
And then the prairie would open – the fertile rolling lowland of Pannonian Plain with its forest ridges and endless dithering wheat fields, carried by the wind like sea waves.
There used to be a sea here once upon a time and poets still lamented of being like lost sailors trapped in the corn fields and what a disgrace it was to lose not a ship, but the whole sea.
In the villages, the main street in which houses were leaning against each other, connected by a thick greasepaint line at the bottom – would inevitably be named after Marshall Tito. The grandmother’s house stood just across the street from the tall white church with belfry – the pigeons’ dwelling on the top;
every time the bells rung, calling the believers to pray, a flock of flustered pigeons would get on the run, waiving their wings hastily.
You first needed to unlock the wooden gate with a horseshoe nailed on it for luck and protection and then turn right to the big house, which main room was the spacious kitchen occupying the mezzanine.
On the first floor were the bedrooms with tall iron beds covered by duvets stuffed with goose feathers and big pillows sewn from damask silk, during the night, feathers would stick out from the covers and pillows and would pinch and tickle the sleeper’s bear skin inducing them with vivid dreams.
The books were everywhere, all kinds of books – encyclopedias, collected works of classical writers, cook books, monographs, history books – arranged on shelves, coffee tables, bedside stands and even on the floor; it’s here where the books were kept, as the family moved across the globe.
The heavy wooden chest kept starched tablecloths, embroidered linen and vintage handkerchiefs, all carefully ironed, folded and arranged so that their edges would form a straight line, with lavender pouches spread randomly between them.
The whitewashed walls were decorated with hunting tapestries, windows covered with crocheted curtains, dozens of porcelain dolls were sitting on velvet chairs and the whole atmosphere was that of an antique shop, it felt as if the time had stopped there.
Drinking water was brought from the nearby well in painted tin cans and in the backyard was a tiny basin that harvested rainwater used for laundry and bathing.
Grandmother despised industrial soaps and washing liquids and made what we needed on her own – the soap was made of wood ashes, the hair washed with yolk and brandy and the skin treated with lotion made of egg-shells and lemon.
The food was made from scratch and cooked on a wood stove, the baths were taken in a barrel and the books read under the flickering light of kerosene oil lamps.
Soon after our arrival, cousins and neighbors would start arriving, carrying the gifts – eggs that were freshly laid, milk that was still warm from milking, apples just picked from the orchard and manually ground coffee that smelled divinely.
The water would be measured carefully with small coffee cup, poured to cezve – copper pot with a long wooden handle – and placed on the stove.
Then the hostess would inquire about sugar preferences – most took it with one dessert spoon of sugar, that was considered medium, few would like their sweeter or – without any sugar, those had to be made separately. After the sugared water would boil, cezve was removed from the stove and some of the water, approximately half of the small ceramic cup, set aside for later use. Then coffee would be added – two level dessert spoon per cup – and cezve would be brought back to stove; after the thick liquid would boil once again and would start to raise, the coffee was ready – it only needed to be poured over with that remaining water, which made the residue fall into its place… and that you needed so you could actually read the cups.
The coffee was enjoyed slowly, sipped on, well water was poured into crystal glasses and and some honey or home made jam was served in small plates and on crocheted doilies.
The community’s news would be exchanged – who was getting married, who had a baby and who was no longer with us; there were always weddings and funerals to attend and presents or words of condolence were carefully chosen in advance.
After the last sip, when only the thick residue remained on the bottom, the coffee cup would be shaken several times and turned over the saucer; it would sit like that for at least ten minutes so the residue would form the figures and dry.
And then the magic would began.
Grandmother Embrodieress was held in high respect for her reading skills, it’s only years later that i would understand she was clairvoyant.
She could tell the past and future too and her readings were amazingly accurate. She never went to great lengths to explain herself – who thought her to do so, did she think it morally right, was she entitled to this knowledge… she saw things and she told them as she saw them, that was it.
There were neither preset meanings nor rules of reading – and ‘reading’ is not the word we use in our language, for us it is “seeing”, because that’s what she was doing, she was… Scrying.
Toddlers were given sips of coffee from their grandmother’s saucers, you would become a formed coffee-drinker with set preferences by the age of twelve. When a girl was capable of making a decent coffee herself, she was said to be ready for marriage – usually aged fifteen or sixteen, albeit normally they waited until eighteen and meanwhile panned out their coffee cooking skills.
I knew love spells could be made by adding a drop of menstrual blood to the coffee, and illnesses could be cured and evil eye casted, but i never saw my grandmother doing anything like that.
She would gaze at the coffee residue and she would say things – and hers were pretty succinct instructions on what’s preferably done and what isn’t, and she saw things unexpected, that she had no way of knowing.
I have no idea how they figured out who could be the next talent – but while not all girls were passed the coffee cups to read, i was.
Out of grandmother’s Embrodieress two daughters, three granddaughters and numerous cousins and nieces, it seemed i was the only one who could see stuff, albeit myself i didn’t know how.
I would be passed a coffee cup, i’d start scrying, soon figures made of residue would start talking to me and telling me their stories – it was rather simple, you see.
And soon it would turn out that my readings were accurate too.
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