#495: Mama Olaf

June 26th, 2015

The smell of tripe is faint.

The smell is meaty, yes. And it lingers in the air around the bubbling pot of stomach and bone. But it does so lightly, almost gently.

A Romanian woman smiles and offers a sliver of tripe. It melts on the tongue.

“I worry about Danny,” Mama Olaf said.

Mama Olaf is not named Mama Olaf any more than Olaf is named Olaf. He picked up the nickname years ago, when it was decided an opera-singing Romanian bouncer required something more exotic than “Dan.”

He’s big and back-slapping, a gregarious, bearded man who never hesitates to say if he loves you or if he’s going to kick your ass. Sometimes it’s both.

Mother and son have not seen each other in almost 13 years.

It’s the immigrants’ story. He came here with little money, and stayed here with none. They call. They talk. I assume some emails are involved, based on the iPad mama would later bring out to show the group photos of Olaf’s siblings.

But now she was in his kitchen, smiling at the guests and frowning at the sour cream Olaf bought for the ciorba de burta.

There were hugs and laughter, double-cheeked kisses and stories that had to pause so she could translate the English to Romanian for her husband, Olaf’s stepfather. He smiled and nodded and shot short sentences back to be translated to us. Pancake the dog flopped around, looking for skritches from the crowd.

Laughter, jokes, beer, plum brandy Olaf’s cousin made as a gift for the American emigrant.

And soup. Fantastic soup I might have embarrassed myself over on my fifth or 19th helping.

Mama Olaf worries about Danny. She worries about his work, about his socializing, that the girlfriend who straightened him out will move on to less of a fixer-upper. As she and I stood in the kitchen, she talked about these things and more as her silent, smiling husband minced garlic.

Tears came to eyes as, throughout the night, people told her she raised a good man, each thinking they were saying something original.

She’s in town for three days. Then, back home for another separation that could last years, could last decades.

She hasn’t been to this country since the era of Reagan and Ceaușescu.

“In 1987, I say ‘America, I will be back,’” she told the crowd of her son’s friends, gathered for stories and a creamy, simmering tripe soup. “I will be back.”

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Read a story of Olaf’s job (Warning: Contains trixies)

A recipe that looks right for Olaf’s mom’s soup

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