ON the afternoon before Christmas Eve, Mom and I were in the kitchen filling and pinching together pieces of dough to make pyrohy. A large pot of boiling water burbled softly on the stove, steaming and warming the air. We pinched carefully and quickly; the race was on to cook all the traditional courses and dress the house before the guests arrived for our family dinner. In the middle of our project, the doorbell rang. Mom left the room to respond, grabbing a dish towel to wipe her floured hands.
``Merry Christmas, Mrs. Kuzma,'' an adolescent voice politely spoke.
``Come in, Peter, come in. Merry Christmas,'' she answered as if she'd been expecting him all day, and she took his coat. The two sat down in the living room.
Peter, one of her students at the parish Ukrainian school, had come to rehearse a poem he was to recite in the church Epiphany program. I heard him begin the lines slowly, cautiously, as if conscious of someone else's presence in the house (possibly in the kitchen).
He worked through each of the many couplets to a confident finale, and my mother applauded, ``Good . . . very good, Peter. Now..'' She murmured some suggestions I couldn't hear, reciting certain lines for emphasis. ``Well, try again, hmm?''
He began again after a pause, and some adult depth rounded into his voice. Toward the end, his speech quavered, betraying that he was about to lose his place. ``It's OK. Go on,'' Mom comforted him and started the next verse for him.
I thought of my mother in that room. One on one with her pupil. I thought of her clear voice and the lyrical quality of her character that sounded when she taught. Of the boy's heroic effort to memorize the many verses in Ukrainian and to see the images the poem and my mother's voice evoked. I listened on.
``Fine,'' she chimed when he finished again. She reassured him that he was a good student and that they would rehearse together still a number of times before the performance. As they headed for his coat and the door, a paper bag rustled.