Friday, March 7, 2008

A Tribute

I felt it only fitting to write a tribute to Grace Hasson, otherwise known as Vava (or Yaya, which is Greek for grandmother) to her friends and family. I guess I can begin by explaining that Vava was my husband’s grandmother, who passed away last week at the beautiful age of 104! We should all live that long.

Vava lived an amazing life, and I feel bad condensing it here into a few paragraphs, because her life was so full. But I guess that I will have to leave the hundreds of other stories for another day (or maybe a book or two).

Beginning her life on the Island of Rhodes (now part of Greece, but at one time under Italian and Turkish rule), Vava and her husband Joseph immigrated to the United States when she was in her early twenties, winding up in Southern California. Since she and her husband Joseph were Sephardic and spoke Ladino (a language fairly close to Spanish), East Los Angeles was a perfect place to settle, raise a family and open a flower shop. Yes, this is how my husband’s grandmother wound up in East LA.

Along with raising a very large family (4 children, 16 grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren and two great, great grandchildren), I think Vava was most famous for her food. She was always cooking up amazing amounts of delicious Sephardic delicacies, from beans and rice, stewed okra and zucchini, to burekas (pastry turnovers filled with mashed potatoes, onions and parmesan), Boyus de Spinaka (spinach pastries), leek patties and quashadu (a Sephardic spinach and egg fritatta-like dish), all on a tiny old stove. Next to the simmering pots and baking sheets filled with hundreds of burekas, was something that her grandchildren often referred to as her “magic” coffee pot. This tiny little pot would continuously percolate cup after cup of coffee, all day long, seemingly never needing to be refilled.

It was always a treat to spend time in Vava’s kitchen, making sure to stand out of her way while noshing on burekas, sipping a cup of her special coffee, and listening to the chatter of her Spanish soap operas playing in the background on her little black and white TV.

Visiting Vava was like watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding, with all of the cousins and aunts and uncles crowding the front lawn, hanging out, catching up and sharing food.

When I first met Vava, I was terrified of her, as she looked me up and down giving me the "look" which said “oh great, he brings another young girlfriend home to meet the family”. But once Jay and I decided to get married, Vava softened up and welcomed me into her family. She even took me aside one day and told me to “hide my money” in my bra, that men will always spend it and that it’s up to women to keep it safe and tucked away.

Vava continued to cook through her 90’s, but was hesitant to share any of her recipes. Being very superstitious, she wanted to make sure that no one could replace her or cook like she could. So although some recipes were reluctantly shared (mostly by observing her cook with a pinch of this and a handful of that), true “Vava” food will never be duplicated. We will miss you greatly Vava, hanging out in your kitchen and sharing your incredible meals.

She leaves us with a legacy to admire, which spawned several generations that will never forget her.

(These are the hands of a woman that cooked copious amounts of food and fed generations of family and friends. No need for oven mitts, she would just scoff and use her bare hands)


Melisser; the Urban Housewife said...

What a beautiful tribute to Vava! 104 years is an amazing feat. All the best to you & your in this sad time.

heather said...

oh, this is such a beautiful tribute to her! my thoughts are with your family, but i imagine that the wonderful memories you all keep of her are holding you all together now.

Melody Polakow said...

She sounds like an amazing woman... that picture is amazing. It says so much. 104... I can't even imagine what it must be like to have lived so much.

I'm sorry for your families loss. I do hope you write some books about her!

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

A lovely celebration of her life, Julie! I had to laugh at the bra thing! Hugs to you all! Bryanna

John Plummer said...

What a beautiful post, and an amazing life.
Good thoughts to you and yours,

julie hasson said...

Thank you all so much for your lovely comments. It really meant a lot to us.

Spice Island Vegan said...


A beautiful tribute! Now I know who Yaya is. My thoughts are with you and Jay in this sad time. 104 years is a long long time.

I know what you mean with yaya not sharing recipes. It's the same with our family cook who is my role model in cooking.

The bra thing is so funny but that's how Indonesian women store their money too when they go to the market. Money and other valuable things (jewelry, etc.) that they want to hide from pick pocketers are tucked inside their bras. It is a safe place. :-)


Vegan_Noodle said...

Sounds like Vava will be greatly missed. This was a wonderful tribute to what sounds like a very happy life she had. My thoughts are with your family...

Cakespy said...

What a beautiful and loving tribute--a woman who scoffed at oven mitts is surely one that will not be forgotten soon! Everyone should have an inspirational "Vava" in their life, I think!

springsandwells said...

What a beautiful post this is. That picture of Vava's hands is so beautiful. Grandmothers are so special. I'm very sorry for your loss. Even though it comes to us all, death is always a shock. She sounds like she was an amazing woman who left many strong memories behind. Not easily forgotten!

wishing you laughter amongst the tears

jess (of Get Sconed!) said...

This is so endearing. What a remarkable woman. Thank you for sharing this, Julie. <3

madness rivera said...

So nice, Julie. That last photo is purely priceless.

Vegyogini said...

What a blessing to have had Vava in your life. You wrote a lovely tribute to her and I'm sure you're grateful to have such amazing memories.

DJ said...

A beautiful tribute to an amazing-sounding woman!

Lapa said...

Coimbra, April 23, 1975.
"A few days ago, during the homily of Sunday Mass in a parish church in rural surroundings, the priest spoke to his parishioners about the forthcoming elections for the Constituent Assembly. Launched hand of the parabola to be better understood and told them:

-- "My dear brothers in Christ: suppose that one of you is owner of a dairy cow; if socialism wins, the brother takes the cow, but will have to give the milk to the party, if the communism wins, we will stand without the milk and without. cow. .." "

little miss veggie. said...

104!! i envy this woman. what a life:) the photo of her hands making the ravioli is beautiful. i just love it:)

Simple and Divine said...

This is exceptionally beautiful. My deepest condolences go out to you and your family during this time <3

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