Grandpa’s Kashkaval

When Grandpa was a boy his family lived above a lake
ringed by the rugged Carparthian Mountains.
His chore: guarding a herd of sheep day and night
with a Queensland Heeler who kept the wolves and bears at bay.

He daydreamed his days away listening to whirling
winds and trembling leaves. His echo in the valley,
the only other voice heard. Awakened in the midnight
gloom by the plaintive choral of hungry wolves,
he waited for brightening skies just before dawn.
In a rustic, carmine-red shack, slumbering side
by side with his flock, he was lulled to sleep
by the belled herd of cows loitering
on the hillside sward. The scent of lilacs, poppies
and a heather-filled glen perfumed the
After the sound of distant thunder, and a downpour
of drenching sun showers he searched for a rainbow,
a harbinger of happiness.

The ewes were milked for Kashkaval, a tangy cheese
that he craved for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It was melted on to a steaming bowl of golden-yellow
mamaliga sprinkled with parsley and black Kalamata olives.
Father cut portions of this cornmeal mush with the aid
of a white cotton thread.

Although his people had lived in the area since
the Second Century, there were periodic
waves of virulent anti-Semitism, erupting in theft
of livestock and possessions. Living under the increasing
threat of murder and mayhem made his family flee to free soil.
Remaining relatives failed to survive the massacres that followed.
Kashkaval kept them alive, surviving crowded steerage
on the voyage to the new land. Settled in a sixth
story walk-up tenement on Stanton Street, Grandpa
missed his flock of sheep, treasured dog, and open
night sky blanketed with stars. He slept on the fire
escape listening for the sound of howling wolves.

Milton P. Ehrlich