It’s amazing how often we reflect on experiences that we have had. A memory wanders from the back of our mind and slowly draws a smile across our face. We fondly see mental pictures of the people we met and the places we’ve been. That memory continues to delight as we relate the anecdote to others that were not privy to these little moments.
I was recently reading Seth Kugel’s Rediscovering Travel when this very thing happened to me. I was sitting near my father reading an excerpt from Chapter 2 aloud when that little flutter in the back of my mind started taking form. Stronger and stronger, I remembered that little country farmhouse in rural North West Poland where chickens clucked at the kerfuffle our car made as we pulled up. The farm’s resident dog was so excited to see us strangers that he began literally bouncing up and down. Standing in the doorway to welcome us was the most polish babcia I had ever laid eyes on. Full of purpose and pride, she came over to us and welcomed us to her home. I’m sure she felt her piece of paradise was humble. I, on the other hand, thought it was straight out of a fairytale.
The more I looked around, the more I saw. Were those bunnies in a hutch by the pond? Is that another older dog who had no patience for the younger hopping pooch? Is that a little baby PONY?! I was hooked! But, as much as all of these furry souls were calling me to play in the amber wheat fields that we had just driven through, we were there for a much different reason: bread. Bread and schleb. Our newly minted Babcia was going to teach us how to make traditional polish bread- and she was serious about it.
Her lovely daughter joined us around a worn wooden table that had to be well over 100 years old in the lean to just beside the house. Her halting english was welcome and we peppered her with questions about farm life, about how things changed since the fall of communism, and when was that pony born? Babcia counseled us on proper dough kneading in polish and once we had the hang of it, the conversation turned back to life on the farm.
The art of translation.
Had they had a good harvest this year? Why yes, the weather had been favorable! What is the dog’s name? Luna. Does Babcia teach bread making often? Yes, but never to adults. Pardon? Yes, normally the local schoolchildren come. No adults, ever? None, we were the first and the only Americans that had ever been under the careful bread making charge of Babcia- the ony Americans she had ever met! Well, color me red, white and blue! When we finished the kneading process, Babcia marched us over to the hearth in the barn where a fire had been stoked to perfection. In the bread went and Babcia announced that we needed to wait 45 minutes. what to do with 45 minutes…. hmmm…. maybe Luna had some ideas.
Farm dogs do know how to have fun.
Better yet, maybe Luna could introduce us to her fellow farm buddies! Six bunnies, a romp with Luna in the wheat field, a ten minute buggy ride and 45 minutes later, the bread was done! This excursion got better and better! First, a pony and now snacks! Our warm bread was sliced and we were instructed to smear it with schleb. What is schleb? Well, for lack of a better way to put it, it’s fat. What lardo is to central Italy, schleb is to Poland. We schmeared that bread with schleb and dug in. Can I just say that there are moments in life that make you take stock of every bite you’ve ever taken and regret every single thing that was pre-wrapped? This was that moment. This was that memory.
Yes, this was that diamond of a memory that will always make me smile. We couldn’t have asked for more. A glorious day on a rural farm with Luna introducing us to the baby pony and all of the sweet little bunnies and ducks and pigs and even the old milk cow that had contributed to our delicious treat. When our time to leave arrived all too soon , our Babcia wrapped othe rest of our bread up. Then, she sent us off with a wave and an invitation to come back whenever we were in the neighborhood. We may just take her up on that! After all, it’s not every single day that you gain a new Babcia in your life!
Memories like this always make me think that in our quest for the perfect trip, we sometimes miss the big picture. We miss out on the moments that take us away from the check list of sites that we all are guilty of depending on. Why do we insist on following the herd? The easy answer is because it’s our comfort zone’s preference. But, maybe it is a deeper sense of fear that drives us straight to the Eiffel Towers of our travels.
Maybe it is the fear that we will be let down- that the reality of what we will do off the beaten path will fall far short of the hopes and expectations that have invaded our trip planning minds. Don’t get me wrong, I do think we need to discover the depths of the Coliseum and watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Those travel moments have a firm place in travel. They are icons for a reason and they do create memories but they are not the only pieces that fit into the travel puzzle. So, when you start planning your next trip, leave a little room, just a little, for the magic. The moments that make you smile when you think of them years later. They will never let you down, ever. And isn’t that a lovely thought?