As omega blocking allowed us to still enjoy sun and good weather here in Serbia, I took advantage of it to take a couple of shots with my dad’s favorite apple. 🙂
I first found out about these flowers when the best friend of my grandmother brought them into my life – she used to grow big beautiful yellow chrysanthemums in her garden and it always fascinated me how this plant defied bad weather, first blows of frost and first flakes of snow. Flowers are associated with spring, with the first rays of early March sun, while in autumn everything shuts down and prepares itself for yet another long sleep. Almost everything, apart from chrysanthemums whose splendid colors explode to brighten up first gloomy days of October. They are such a pretty site, but you have to wait all year long to see them bloom for this short, late time. You have to be patient, the best and most beautiful things in life require perseverance and patience. Also, you have to be punctual, because if you miss them you’ll have to wait for another year to see them bloom again. And a year can be a very long time, once I used to say very casually and confidently that I would do something or go somewhere next year, it went without saying that the next year would come, then another next and all the other nexts after it. Today I’m much more cautious when I want to say a thing like that, now that I felt all the fragility and uncertainty of life in the closest possible proximity. Chrysanthemums will always remind me of it.
The harvest of walnuts is almost over, trees are shedding yellow autumn leaves… but some types of apples are ripening or are even about to ripen. Dad’s trees are covered with beautiful, healthy fruits – you can’t even imagine how much he loved them and how happily he ate his apples every day, sometimes even all winter, if his trees gave enough fruit. Here are some photos, I hope you’ll like them!
I can’t say I had any particular relationship with walnuts till a year ago. I knew of course that they grew on trees and that my dad had some on his little piece of land, I knew that I couldn’t eat them raw as I would immediately feel a burning sensation all the way down my stomach due to some sort of allergic reaction so they weren’t exactly on the list of my favorite food items. On the other hand, my mom would often put them in all sorts of cakes (in particular my favorite chocolate cake Reform) and occasionally mix them in raw form with cooked wheat which is very important in our culture, but other than that I didn’t contemplate much on this strange type of fruit as we perceive it in my country.
Famous poet from Montenegro, Njegoš, in his classic work “Gorski vijenac” mentioned an epic truth which goes more or less like this: “Hard walnut is a strange fruit, it won’t crush but it’ll break your teeth.” I think that he’s the most responsible for establishing the expression “hard walnut” we often use in our everyday speech, referring to a person who can’t be easily convinced and who won’t back off and change the attitude under pressure, someone tough enough to refuse to be “broken”.
I would also hear my mom complain every autumn about a giant walnut tree growing outside our apartment building, saying that it makes annoying noises at night when ripe fruits hit the hard asphalt, and that it leaves behind mountains of dirty leaves on the ground by the beginning of November.
That used to be pretty much everything when it came to me and walnuts. What I failed to recognize though was that I missed the essentials – I never learnt to distinguish walnuts from other trees by the shape of their leaves, I never collected a single fruit with my own hands from the ground and I never watched it develop in its hard green shell that in the end turns to black-brown in the process of ripening and cracks open to drop down its light brown stone-like product. Just like many other things, I considered walnuts merely something that I could buy or take and consume as desired, oblivious of how that consumption philosophy pushes us further and further away from nature that created and shaped all our lives.
Who knows for how long this could go on for me if my dad’s life hadn’t come to its end. Walnuts usually start ripening by the middle of September if the weather is favorable, which was the case last year. As my dad sat and lay on his deathbed in his bedroom after being discharged from the hospital as an “untreatable case” (there is no facility or trained staff for palliative care in oncology in Serbia, believe it or not) and sent home to our bare, medically uneducated hands to do whatever we thought we should to alleviate the pains and misery in his last days, walnuts kept popping out from their greenish-brown shells and hitting the asphalt under the bedroom window. Last days of death from cancer are among other things marked by huge changes in body’s physiology, which heavily impacts the brain of the dying person. People dying from cancer usually turn to themselves reliving distant childhood memories, fall in and out of consciousness and occasionally lose touch with reality and persons around them, until pains close in on them one more time with harder and harder blows. Changes in physiology and strong painkilling medication induce periods of delirium, infallible proof that the end is getting nearer and nearer. There were long periods when I could sit on the bed by my dad’s side, without him being conscious of my presence. Most of the time I couldn’t even just touch him as this provoked unbearable pains, so whenever I felt that he could at least communicate with me I would start whatever small talk that came into my mind. Times for big talks were over, it’s nothing like you see in movies with those important lines for special goodbyes – in death in real life it all gets pointless. Dad’s body had a strange tendency to rhythmically move with the sound of walnuts hitting the ground, so knowing how much he loved this fruit, several times I tried to ask him: “Dad, do you hear the walnuts falling down?” Absorbed in his thoughts he usually failed to respond, staring into emptiness. Once however, growing intensely delirious he replied: ” Yes, goats are falling down, too.” I remember staring at my dad in scary disbelief watching his distorted expression, horrified that he went totally nuts as (wal)nuts outside continued falling down and creating some highly ominous atmosphere. I hadn’t dealt with death from cancer before so I feared this stage very much, observing with intense fear how dad would swing from delirium to a perfectly normal state and back again in terms of hours. There was nobody to guide me or even just explain to me how this end of life enfolds, and from my experience it’s much better to be prepared for what you’re about to witness than to live in ignorance of foolish protection from the reality we all have to face in some form or another. Thank God there was at least internet by my side to help me recognize all the relevant signs in spite of my total refusal to admit that one life was about to be over beyond any repair. Life eventually ended with the sound of nuts cracking as they landed on the hard ground. The burial was prepared and awaited during horrible sleepless nights interrupted only by that familiar, ominous sound. Those hardest days that come after the burial were still marked by this more and more annoying tapping which threatened not to end ever again.
Then somehow as the tree exhausted all its fruits and autumn progressed into winter, somewhere along that path tapping stopped, but I failed to spot the exact moment when this happened. There was snow and silence, so cold and hard that I almost preferred to hear the familiar ground hitting sounds again. Winter turned into spring, strong summer heats chased away spring blossoms again, and finally the end of another August got nearer and nearer. I felt it in my stomach that was turning into stinging and painful knots again as I relived dates and events from the previous year. Memories were like needles piercing my skin, thousands of pains and moments of disbelief, real as if it all had happened the previous day, as if time had stopped and the year never elapsed, the year in which among other things I gave my best to learn all I could about walnut leaves, shells, fruit ripening. I would look at the tree outside the window and as I remembered the goats falling from the sky, my body would fill with intense fear. I dreaded hearing the sound of falling walnuts again and it seemed that I wouldn’t survive it without dad around. I almost begged the Heaven above not to hear that sound ever again, especially not at the time of anniversary. Strangely enough, it seemed that my prayers were heard. The unfavorable weather slowed down the ripening of walnuts and by September 12th still not even a single one hit the ground. After the anniversary, me and my mom went several times to dad’s cottage house and she “put me in charge” of collecting fallen walnuts and hitting down the ripe ones that were still on the tree. It felt awkward and I was reluctant to start, but once I did I never felt sorry for my decision. It’s not easy to spot fallen walnuts nor to track them when they bounce down from the tree. Each one you find gives you a small boost of happiness because you had a successful “nut hunt” as I decided to call it. As you analyze the ground around the tree you bend over and get up thousands of times, which gives you all the exercise your body craves for in today’s sedentary lifestyle. And on the top of everything, something strange started happening. Whenever I gave a close look along the paths I had frequently covered all my life in my neighborhood or elsewhere around the town, I would spot a walnut tree I walked by thousands of time not knowing what it was. This year was extremely prolific in terms of walnuts, so during this last month or so there wasn’t a single day in which I wouldn’t come home without at least 10-15 walnuts in my hands. Time worsened in last 15 days with the arrival of strong winds and rain, but it proved to be actually beneficial for a nut hunter like me – I would find myself in the middle of rain and walnut storm as winds and humid weather would shake the trees and make them shed the fruits. They would fall in dozens, hitting my head, hand, feet, rolling down the ground in my direction, literally following me wherever I went. One day three walnuts landed down from different directions and joined together to stop in front of my feet, as if something or somebody sent them to convey a message and help me make the final peace with these trees. Also, last year we didn’t find any walnuts at the cottage house as nobody went there due to my dad’s condition for more than 2 months, which means that probably somebody took them away. My mom had to buy them all year long for all memorial days for my dad, because they are traditionally mixed with cooked wheat prepared together with wine for the religious service. She repeated many times that my dad wouldn’t believe that she had to buy walnuts when we had two fairly big trees of our own.
This year it was all somehow evened out, because not only the harvest is really extremely abundant, but also it turned out that there was no reason for me to fear the sound of falling walnuts. Nut hunt turned out to be a happy task, a true way for me to preserve the memory of my dad. I could be wrong or not, but as my dad loved them so much I have a feeling that this was his gift and the way to say that everything is ok and that there is nothing to fear any more, that on the contrary we should be strong and brave hard walnuts fighting for our place in the world.
Happy nut hunt to all walnut hunters from my hemisphere!
Here are several other photos from yesterday, same theme, but different shapes. I chose just one today, but then today I realized that it could be interesting to share others as well. Thank you all for likes and comments!
As collecting walnuts consumed most of my time yesterday and today, I didn’t manage to complete the walnut story the way I thought it deserved to be written as something special and significant for me. I’ll continue working on it, but unlike before when I waited for days in a row till I shaped something interesting, this time I wanted to stick with the schedule and share an interesting photo of leaves I collected today. Pears, walnuts and ricinus plants are shedding their leaves – summer is definitely way behind us and autumn is giving its best to surprise us once again with a fountain of vibrant colors. Wish my dad could see how beautiful his trees are.
This is what I’ve been pretty much up to these last days – collecting nuts, golden fruits of autumn. There is a whole story behind it, a hidden meaning that makes them special for me – I’m getting it ready for Tuesday.
Today was October 12th. It’s been exactly a month without dad around. Am I doing better? No, not really. Has it started sounding real? No, it hasn’t, it still makes no sense at all. It’s as if somebody pressed the permanent pause at the end of that accelerated horror story movie of the battle for dad’s life and now time flows in some badly directed nightmare that I still wish could end any time. Have I moved on? No, I haven’t, I still catch myself begging him in my mind to come back even though I know very well that he never will.
I almost decided to quit blogging for good. Because you know, somehow I think that I shouldn’t complain that much or all time. Everybody lost somebody. Everybody will lose somebody extra special and handle it better than I do I suppose. On the other hand, I am who I am and my grieving process is uniquely shaped in my own way, I can’t be here talking about good and cheerful things right now. I’m well aware that it pushes people away and that all this long lasting “rant” is the best way to lose even that couple of tiny friendly bonds I managed to create (which I’m afraid has already happened). But I can’t pretend. I’m tired of pretending, I’ve been doing it for years and years, for almost as long as I remember, faking that my days are the same as the days of the majority of people out there who live without anxiety issues. Call it the fear of stigma, desperate desire to fit in, struggle not to lose the last good standpoints I badly need if I want to survive any longer. Whatever it is, one thing is certain – I’m not crazy or delusional or any sort of threat to anybody, I just have anxiety issues which have filled my soul with lots of pain and solitude for so long. That pain is there, the same as always, it is just multiplied many times and worsened by the grief that’s been haunting my days for weeks and weeks in a row. When I wanted to quit, I remembered the title I gave to this unfortunate blog of mine – “Thinking diaries”. Even though it was created with quite a different idea, and even though it should have been a place for interesting contemplations on various issues, it took a completely unpredictable turn… but it was still meant to be a diary of some sort. Diary entries aren’t always cheerful or fun. Diary writers are not all and always bursting with optimism. This is my life, and such should be my diary as well. I almost opted for writing it back on paper again in order not to choke or bother other people out there any more, but it would be hard to fit in things like images or sounds into a palpable version. So, all in all – if the negativity is too much for you guys out there, what can I say – there are plenty of other places where sun shines brighter than on my pages. As for those who will still stick with me “in sickness and in health”, one big thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Back to October 12th – in the Christian Orthodox religion to which I belong, this is a special, festive day called Miholjdan, dedicated to the Saint Kirjak, who among other things spent his life healing the sick and unfortunate people. This day is also dear to many Serbian people, marking the period of Miholjsko summer, equivalent for the North American Indian summer. It is typical that around this date summer briefly returns for the final goodbye, even though the autumn has officially started three weeks ago. It’s no different this year as well, daily temperatures are around 80 degrees and will stay that way for the next couple of days. This year Miholjdan came immediately after the day dedicated to the dead – in the Orthodox religion, there are four such days in the year, they are called Zadušnice (za dušu – for the soul) and they are always on Saturdays – the first day of the dead in autumn this year was October 11th, and the second one will be on November 1st. You are supposed to visit the graves of your deceased family members on these dates, light candles, bring flowers, take care of the grave, remember the ones who have left us. I was at the cemetery yesterday. I somehow always feel that wherever I go, my father will appear somewhere out of blue and tell me that none of this was real, that he is well and that he’ll be happy in his garden as he has always been. I went to the cemetery, my mom went to the garden to take care of some of the last fruits of dad’s this year’s labor. His last labor as it turned out. It’s horribly sad to find all his stuff there as he left it and the ground slowly succumbing to neglect, weeds and silent abandonment. Each and every thing there was made by his hand or placed where he decided things to be. It requires lots of work and the kind of strength me and my mom don’t have to keep that garden living. Yet it is still unimaginable to me to let someone else take over that little piece of land, destroy everything he made and turn 30 years of dad’s work into dust. It’s still too early to decide. She “looked for” him in the garden, I “looked for” him at the cemetery. He was nowhere to be found, there were just evidences that he once walked on this Earth and shaped some of its parts in a certain way. We ordered his picture for the tombstone and arranged for the letters to be carved in, his name and years of birth and death, right under my grandma’s picture and name. I arrived yesterday afternoon and there it was, almost completely done. It made me cry in some good way. It was beautiful, if such things can be called beautiful. He smiles from that picture the same way he does from the photo I hanged here previously, as if he were about to open his mouth and say something at that very instant you look at him. I lit the candles and as I was moving away, that light in the dusk accompanied by the light of other candles all over that nowadays huge cemetery made some very special effect on me. It was almost some kind of blessing, some special peace that was spreading all over that huge, flat, open space. Mom brought home some potatoes, parsley, carrots, a couple of pears and some of dad’s favorites quinces. They have that special, one of a kind smell of their village childhood when old women traditionally kept quinces on the cupboards in autumn and winter which filled the air with the last breaths of that year’s fruits of the nature. I remember my grandma and later my mom making that extra special quince jelly with nuts that we called kitnikez, word distorted from German Quittenkase whose tradition of making these sweets we inherited and adapted back in the times of the military occupation. Having been a diabetic for many years, dad turned over time to the stewed mixture of quinces and sour apples (compote) with no added sugar, but this imposed change in habits didn’t changed his love for his extra special quince trees. There are almost no apples this year, but he lived to see last year’s apple outburst – he gave out kilos and kilos of apples as presents to everybody we knew, that was his last goodbye with giving out healthy fruits he produced with so much love and care. He never sold one thing he made in that garden, he never knew how to make money. If the state hadn’t given him salary for his job as a doctor, he would have cured people for free. It was all about love and giving out to the world with a smile in his life. He was quite a unique person, and I am not saying this because he was my dad. It still feels weird to use past tense when I speak about him.
As for the candles at the beginning of this post – all those who can’t visit the graves of their loved ones, either because of illness, distance, or simply being busy are more than welcome to light candles for the dead in any nearby church, both on Saturday and Sunday. Even though I was at the cemetery yesterday, I felt the need to go to the church today, especially because it was both Miholjdan and a month after dad passed away. I always used to light one candle for the grandma and another one for “all the rest”, other people usually light just one candle for all those who are missing from their lives. Now I lit one for the grandma, one for the dad, and one for everybody else, dad’s candle is the one in the middle of that photo dominantly depicting three candles. Then something strange happened, there was this very old lady that came with a handful of candles, stood right next to us and started lighting them one by one, while as we say “attributing” each one of them to a certain person. My mom said – my goodness, look at that flame… and I said – mom, my goodness how many dead people though… Then I remembered what my grandma’s best Belgrade’s friend who is 95 and still alive said – I don’t know what’s worse, to die early or to live long – if you live for a very long time, everybody you’ve ever known will be gone and you’ll be still there to be aware of that. I’m sure that the old lady that lit these candles would agree with her. We stood in silence, watching the flames and it was again a moment of piece in all this storm. May all that people remembered this way rest in piece and may these candles light their path, till we all meet again some day.
I wanted to add just one more thing, as I said Miholjdan made me think of the term Indian summer, which brought back in my memory that famous old French song by Joe Dassin, “L’été indien”. When I learned French well enough I memorized these words by heart and I still know them – here is a youtube link with the text in French for those of you who understand it:
It speaks of how things used to be beautiful and nice, of one past love… and how now everything is gone. Places are still there, waves, the beach, but she is gone for good. It somehow perfectly fits in my present mood. Here is the translation:
You know, I have never been as happy as I was that morning
We were walking along the beach a bit like this one
It was autumn, an autumn when weather was nice
A season that exists only in the North America
Down there they call it Indian Summer
But this one was simply ours
With your long dress you resembled a watercolor by Marie Laurencin
And I remember, I remember very well
What I told you that morning
A year, a century, an eternity ago
We will be going, where you want to go, whenever you want to
We will be loving each other still even when love will be dead
And all of life will be like the shades of the Indian Summer
Today I’m far away from this morning of autumn
But it’s like I was there
I’m thinking of you
Where are you?
Do I still exist for you?
I’m watching this wave that will never reach the dune
You see, like the wave I’m lying down on the sand
And I’m remembering the rising tide flowing in, the sun and happiness drifting away into the sea
An eternity, a century, a year ago
We will be going, where you want to go whenever you want to
We will be loving each other still even when love will be dead
And all of life will be like the shades of the Indian Summer