my grandma’s guide to becoming an olive hustler

Kaja Andric, Poetry

  1.  Know how to keep an operation a secret. 
  2. I go to the market and bring back a stick of six fish in each hand, all smiling, all roasting, all cheap, all off-season muscle building/tongue training practice for the real hustle, which is finding an olive tree. Or someone who will sell it to me, but know that they only accept my best bargain. 
  3. Use my oldest blanket, the pink one with a superspies logo I bought my granddaughter when she turned six, and place it under the tree. They have everything in america but no one has baka’s boujee mediterranean retail price 100 euros a jar olives except my little chick. 
  4. Climb the ladder that is dug up from underneath my stairwell, dodging grandchildren’s tennis rackets and spiders spindling down the railings as I shake the branches, my sister lela holding the ladder so i do not fall, olives dropping like rain against the shell of an airplane, and listen to the shush shush of leaves like palm fronds in florida hurricanes. 
  5. Grab my heaviest mallets. Sit in my maroon-lined countertop kitchen and slam each olive once. Think about what i will write for my granddaughter, it is her birthday in seven days and the card must be sent tomorrow. 
  6. The olives, once cracked, must be boiled nine times to take out the bitterness. It is a slow process, October to February, a secret that increases the product value by ninefold. And is also the amount of years I have kept a burden turned tumors within my breasts, and it never mattered because my granddaughter loved olives and it was the last thing I could give her. 
  7. Place the olives in a brine. Beat in the jar lids. Vacuum seal. Hide between my undergarments and senior compression socks. 
  8. Don’t look TSA in the eyes as you pass through security. They can smell it on you if you’re slow enough. This is not a joke anymore. Lift my chin up and smile. 
  9. My olives reach Florida but I couldn’t tell you how they turned out. The aftertaste in my mouth is no longer brine but bile. Olives are hard to swallow with tumors down my neck, but harder to keep down with a failing liver. 
  10. Plant a new olive tree in front of my well after the last chemo. Sit my granddaughter down in its future shade, so tiny now, but when I die, so big. So pretty. So outliving. So many olives that even athena, goddess of law and justice, would say how clever. How wise. How profitable to hustle. but here, shake my head. athena, they were never for sale. Only for my granddaughter, my family, only 5407 miles away, and when they come, years after i am gone, years after any chemo, years after the house peels off its old yellow color and turns anew, after enough tears have fallen to make the perfect brine, they will look at my tree and finally be able to laugh again. Where is that one pink blanket baka bought you? Bring it here. There are olives to be hustled.

 

I wrote this poem in memory of my grandma, who was notoriously famous for sneaking home-made olives and brine through TSA security checks when she visited from Europe. She passed away last October.