My childhood was one of outdoor games, cuts, bruises, torn clothes, muddy shoes, mischief. Even though playing outside strengthened mine and my sister’s immune systems and we rarely got seriously ill, minor cuts, infections, and colds were unavoidable and somehow inevitable.
My grandma Lena took care of those minor injuries. She was a traditional medicine expert, and we believed she could cure anything with her balms, teas, plants, massages. However, she woud only treat injuries that weren’t serious. If some major health problems occurred, we had to look for a doctor’s help.
I was a lucky child. I rarely got cuts, bruises, or infections. But my sister Marina was always down on her luck. She was very naughty, though, and therefore all those minor injuries seemed to me to be a kind of punishment.
She particularly had a problem with ear infections. They often appeared in summer after we’d swam the whole day in the river. But sometimes they came out of nowhere, in the middle of winter, when they were least expected and least wanted. I’d never had them, and I can’t say for sure what they felt like, but seeing my sister crying, refusing to eat, and complaining about constant headaches and even toothaches gave the impression that they were the worst tormentors one could imagine.
In our backyard, we had a tool shed where my father kept tools and unnecessary things. There, you could find old shoes that no one wore, my old school books and notebooks, bicycle parts, flower pots, and camping tents. My grandma Lena had put a pot with houseleeks on the roof of the tool shed. Rain or shine it stayed there, and my grandma believed it protected us from thunder, lightning, evils, and everything that threatened to ruin our household’s happiness. But that wasn’t the only purpose of the houseleek. The houseleek was, according to my grandma, a medicinal plant, and she used it to cure our wounds and ear infections in particular. Every time my sister Marina had an ear infection, my grandma brought a few thick juicy leaves of our houseleek, halved them, and squeezed a few drops of juice into my sister’s ear. With time, my sister’s earache lessened and eventually, after a few hours or half a day, it totally disappeared.
Marina was very scared and whiny during the first ear infections, but after she realized that our grandma’s medicine worked well, she stopped crying and complaining about how painful they were. Instead, she immediately looked for our grandma and asked her to squeeze the houseleek juice in her ear. This could’ve been done by any other family member, but Marina (and all of us) believed that my grandma’s magic hands complemented the healing process.
As long as I can remember, the houseleek pot remained in the same place, withholding rain, snow, storms, and heat. And when my grandma passed away, and sorrow overwhelmed us, we were taken by surprise that after a few months the houseleek started deteriorating, losing its green color and juiciness, as if it also had suffered a terrible loss.
Its leaves became mushy, and eventually it died. My sister and I looked at it with mournful eyes. We were sorry and unhappy. For many days, we weren’t in the mood for playing. Not only did we lose our grandma, but we also lost the magical houseleek.
My father appeared one day with a new, bigger and brighter pot full of small houseleeks. It brought our smiles back. We put the pot in the same place where the old one had been, and even today it’s still there, resisting the bad weather and protecting our household.
Ana Vidosavljevic is from Serbia, currently living in Indonesia. She has work published or forthcoming in Down in the Dirt (Scar Publications), Literary Yard, RYL (Refresh Your Life), The Caterpillar, The Curlew, Eskimo Pie, Coldnoon, Perspectives, Indiana Voice Journal, The Raven Chronicles, Setu Bilingual Journal, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Madcap Review, The Bookends Review, Gimmick Press. She worked on a GIEE 2011 project: Gender and Interdisciplinary Education for Engineers 2011 as a member of the Institute Mihailo Pupin team. She also attended the International Conference “Bullying and Abuse of Power” in November, 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic, where she presented her paper: “Cultural intolerance”.
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Thank you Mel Gambutti!