“Shasta, Honey, come away from those books and help set the table.” Their mother’s melodic voice brought both girls out of their thoughts. “Natty, come help.”
Natalia heaved a sigh of disgust. They rarely actually set the table in the formal manner unless they were expecting company. Who would possibly be coming in the middle of the week? Papa and Mama? She doubted it. Father Rheiner? She doubted that as well. The good Father rarely stopped by on Wednesdays.
She ran to the kitchen and looked at her mother. “Momma? Who is coming?”
Valeria looked at her daughter and smiled. “Uncle Greg and Aunt Marsala. You need to set eight places. Danni and Martin are coming as well.”
Suddenly, she was excited. She loved it when her uncle visited. He always brought gifts. And seeing Marty and Danni was always a treat.
Greg Venechek was wealthy. He had made his name engineering things for the military. He had risen quickly through the ranks at Boeing. Much younger than his sisters, Greg was the last of the siblings to graduate. Now, he consulted the government on the development of many new weapons. No longer with Boeing, He had entered the political arena.
But he had earned the scorn of many by marrying Marsala. African-American, Marsala Jackson was a beauty to behold. In the fifties, it was unheard of for a white to marry a black, let alone associate with them. But Greg was always ahead of his time. He didn’t see color. He did not see the differences. All he saw was a woman, and a very beautiful one at that.
Amid the scoffing and the threats, he carried on. He was determined to show the world how wrong it was in its separation of peoples. But, then, he was Russian-American. He was considered a minority as well. He was the first of his family to be born in the States. The rest were already in their teens or tweens. Mama gave birth to him later in life.
Alexia had married an oil man. A millionaire with more dollars than sense. Ekaterina had married well also, choosing a politician. And Greg had worked his way into the top.
Momma took care of seeing to the needs of Mama and Papa. She saw to it that they had everything they needed. Even when it came to finding rides for them to the synagogue. And every now and then, Natalia went with them. She loved the beautiful sing-song way they conducted their worship.
Her thoughts ran wild between Mama and Papa and the impending arrival of her favorite uncle and aunt. Nattie couldn’t help being excited. Uncle Greg rarely got to come and visit. When he did, it was like a holiday.
“Watch it!” Shasta’s voice brought Nattie out of her thoughts in time for her to see that she was trying to jab a fork into Shasta’s palm.
She stopped what she was doing. “Sorry. Guess the excitement got to me.”
Shasta flashed her a dirty look. “I’m excited too, Nat, but you don’t need to cause me bodily harm because you aren’t watching what you’re doing.”
Natalia stuck her tongue out. “I wasn’t trying to hurt you, Shay-shay. I just can’t wait! finally! We get to see Marty and Danni! It’s been so long!”
Shasta shrugged and rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Apology accepted. For now. Just watch it from now on. we need to get the table set without any injury.”
Natalia looked at her sister. “You must have been at a good place in your book.”
Shasta smiled. “Of course! And you must’ve been off in some far away land.”
Natalia scowled. “No. I was thinking of Papa and Mama. They have such wonderful stories. I love listening to them whenever I can.”
Shasta nodded. “Why don’t you have them write them down? We can try to put on plays using them.”
Natalia grinned. “Shasta, you are amazing! that is a wonderful idea!” She paused, almost dismayed. “Oh, but they aren’t very good at writing in English.”
Shasta shrugged. “Have Momma translate it. She knows both Russian and Yiddish.”
Natalia did her happy dance. “You’re a genius, Shay-shay!”
Shasta grinned. How she wished her sister would quit calling her Shay-shay. It had been cute when they were three, but it was so immature now. They were nine. She should call her Shasta.
Shasta Michelle Morrow. That was her name. Momma only called her by it when she was in trouble. So did Daddy. But she was so rarely in trouble, that she wished they would call her that all the time. She liked her name.
She liked Natalia’s as well. Natalia Miriam Morrow. Such a sweet name. Why couldn’t Natalia be as sweet as her name?
But Natalia was Natalia. She was precocious. She could be immature, but she was ahead of her age in thought. She was the flirtatious, crush-laden one of the family.
Shasta preferred books to boys. They didn’t get you into trouble. Words were, for the most part, harmless once on the printed page. They didn’t start fights.
Shasta could read about anything. Human anatomy seemed to have her interest, as did scientific advancements. She found it odd that refrigeration and many other creature comforts were pioneered by African Americans, not whites. Her nimble mind absorbed all.
Her open heart and mind sought equality. It didn’t matter if a person was male or female, black or white. She saw them as her equal. Perhaps that was the Venechek in her. Always looking at what was similar, not what was different. Just like Uncle Greg.
With the table set, she ran back into the kitchen to watch Momma as she cooked. Momma looked over at her and smiled. “Someday, you will have to do this for your family.”
She watched as Momma combined the beets, potatoes, and stock in a sauce pan and put them on to boil. Momma, then, melted butter in a skillet and put in onions, caraway seeds, and salt and cooked the onions until they were translucent. Then celery, cabbage and carrots were added.
The smell was incredible. She always loved watching Momma make cabbage borscht. She made it seem so easy. So beautiful.
Once the vegetables were tender, Momma added the potatoes, beets, the stock, black pepper and dill weed. To this, she added cider vinegar, honey and tomato puree. She covered it and reduced the heat.
Thirty minutes later, she removed from the heat. From the oven, she removed the rack of lamb. Shasta smiled. Natalia didn’t know what she was missing. Watching a meal come together was like watching a magic act.