In the summer of 2010, I spent a considerable amount of time in Andros, Greece, the island where my Yiayia Eleni was from. The experience cannot be mimicked; it was a pivotal summer for my family and one in which I am forever grateful.
My cousin Elly and I flew in from different states to be reunited in Greece. Two Greek-Americans consistently pulled by a tide of longing for our roots, we managed to wash ashore upon the island two years in a row. I spent most of my time clinging to the back of her rented debacle of a scooter as the wind whipped us through the mountain curves to our favorite beach. One morning, we decided to help our aunt and her friends can Roma tomatoes for the winter. In an outdoor kitchen overlooking the center of town, we scalded our fingertips (already resembling salty raisins from days of swimming in the Aegean) as we helped peel 40 kilos of organic tomatoes grown on my aunt’s farm. Why blanching was out of the question, I’m still not sure. But as our fingers throbbed and we clumsily squirted boiling tomato juice onto our clothes, we listened to the local women spin village gossip into intriguing commentary, chuckling as they swiftly peeled, strained and filled heated jars with plump, skinless tomatoes and sea salt.
Our attempt to bear the pulsating heat in our hands as discreetly as possible proved futile.
One woman, whom I had never met before, looked up at us. “If you can handle this, you can handle a mother-in-law."
In unison, the women tilted their heads back into an uproar of laughter, all the while pulling skin off the hot tomatoes, not one of them flinching.