Konstantin Korovin, At the Tea Table
By Kristina Boshernitzan
I dissected the lump of frozen chicken soup congealed on my plate. First the layer of chicken, then the lighter layer of carrots, and finally, the icy, cold fat floating on top. What my Russian in-laws assured me was a celebratory dish for the New Year seemed more like a thinly-veiled plot to point out the depth of my Americanness. But really, it was their way of welcoming me into their family, their culture, and their hearts.
I was raised in a small, Southern town on a regular diet of fast food and soda. My idea of culture was watching The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live. Despite my lack of exposure to high culture, love and unquestioning acceptance were in abundance, and I feel lucky to have had such wonderful people as the foundation of my life.
When I met and fell in love with my now-husband, his Soviet/Israeli family felt incredibly foreign. They spoke another language, ate strange and salty foods, and attended the opera for fun. It took very little time for me to fall in love with their foreignness while opening my eyes to the differences that connected us. And they welcomed me in the best way possible – through food and language.
Which explains why most of my Russian vocabulary still resides at the dinner table. Salada bef (potato salad), kukarooza (corn), smitan (sour cream) in borscht (beet soup). The phonemes and proper spelling largely escape me, but they wrap me in a sense of inclusion. When my new family forgets my Americanness for a moment and addresses me in Russian, I like to imagine I’m completely one of them.
Some things, like the frozen chicken soup that I never learned the name of, have not become a part of me. But the appreciation of high culture, the worries about cold feet, and the intellectually challenging conversations of the dinner table have permanently left their mark. They are the beauty I found in a culture that originally felt so foreign, and that now feels like home.
My husband and I now have three beautiful children, and while I struggle with getting them to use babushka and dedushka for their grandparents’ names, I like to think I’m raising them with the best of both their parents’ cultures. The absolute acceptance of oneself my own mother instilled in me has blended with the constant striving for excellence of my new family, and it is giving a uniquely wonderful rhythm to our lives.