Next stop, middle of nowhere. That's how I felt every time I got on the bus to my grandma's village. It's one of those teeny villages where everybody knows everyone. And everything about everyone.
Going there felt like attending a spoiler fest—neighbors would tell me what I was having for lunch, whose potato crops had a bad year, who got knocked up or who left the village for good. I didn't even have to ask.
A sawmill, two run-down stores, a bakery, a gas station, a diner, and two shacks where people got drunk. If you were a kid, you probably spent time at the only playground. Heck, if this place had mountains I would've mistaken it for Twin Peaks.
I didn't know this would be the last time.
My grandma did the whole farm spiel—raised rabbits, pigs, chicken, cows and cute little ducks. 🦆 She was no stranger to growing fruits and vegetables either.
Working in the garden was her identity. She often said she wanted to live as long as God gave her the strength to work.
As a kid, I used to grab lowest-hanging plums from the tree and sit in the shade for hours. I would watch my grandma sow potatoes, or pick up carrots and tomatoes for lunch. Ah, simpler times. 😇
Now she was, however, deep in her eighties. Her fingers were banged up from years of troweling and tilling soil, and her back was pushing her towards the ground. She could do less and less on her own.
I came to help her prepare for the upcoming winter by chopping wood, harvesting and cleaning the house. In return she would do what grandmas do best—make some delicious food. 😍
It was time for one of my favorites, plum duplings. Both lunch and dessert, combined into a ball that melts my heart with every bite. Mmmmmm. 😋 If you ever visit Croatia, grab the nearest grandma and ask her to make them for you.
We talked a lot whenever she cooked. Usually we would be going over the same few meaningless topics such as politics, village happenings, or my love life.
Today was different. She went straight for a hook punch:
Do you still go to church every Sunday?
My grandma was very religious. Praying before meals type of religious. In fact, she lived on the same street as the church. Christening? She was there. Sunday mass? She was there. Funeral? You bet she was there.
She tried to
force nudge me into religion as a child. Every night before I went to sleep she would use the most commanding voice she could muster and ordered me to pray. As far as she was concerned, I was St. Thomas Aquinas.
But I never felt like praying.
Yet she had never asked the question directly.
I don't, grandma.
Is it because of your work? You can go to church during the week too.
No, I don't work on Sundays anymore. I... I'm not a believer.
What are you then, a Communist?
I knew this conversation would be hard. It felt like being in a cave with no flashlight. Every step could mark my demise.
No, I'm not a Communist. I just don't believe in God the same way you do.
Nothing came out the other end.
Do you think I'm a good person, grandma?
After careful consideration of all the things I ever did in my life, she muttered
I took a deep breath and continued
That's what I believe in. Being a good person. I share a lot of values with your religion, and your Commandments are very close to my principles. I too believe that we shouldn't steal. I believe we should help each other and not be envious. The only major difference is that I don't believe in a supreme being. I think we are all equal, and equally responsible in making the world a better place.
Hm, maybe I was a Communist after all. 🤔 I hoped she wouldn't notice. At the end of my monologue she cooked in silence for a good 10 minutes. The food was ready.
I came over to her and noticed tears coming down her cheeks. I felt heartbroken. Should I have just went with a white lie? No. No lying.
I hugged her instead. More tears.
What have I done?
We ate in silence. Normally I'd have plum juice all over my chin. This time, I felt like a brain surgeon.
For a moment, I was zen. Maybe I should write a book. A spiritual sequel to the famous motorcycle maintenance book. I'll call it Zen and the Art of Plum Dumplings. A voice across the table ended my delusion
You know, I'm too old. It's immpossible for me to change my beliefs now.
Are you disappointed?
I'm not. But please continue being a good person. God will still take you in.
I felt like I had won the World Cup. I swear I could hear the crowds chanting my name. She didn't hate me. 🏆
I will, grandma.
This time I meant it. There was plum juice all over my chin.
And I had to get ready for the bus.
Quick hug and a kiss, and I was off. It was the last time I saw her. I'd like to think she's raising ducklings on a much bigger, high-tech farm now. 😌
I think it was worth biting the bullet. I think telling the truth is always worth it. No matter how hard it is. Showing understanding for the other person's beliefs helps too.
I'll run the risk of sounding corny—if the heart is in the right place, the rest will take care of itself. Be it friends, family, or customers.
I've yet to be proven wrong.