Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bittersweet Halava

We climbed a dark narrow stairway and walked down a hallway and my mother knocked on a door. We entered an equally dark apartment in downtown Chicago. There was a small wooden table in the room which was the kitchen. My brother and I would play while my mother talked to a white haired old man in a language we couldn't understand. The white haired man was my grandfather.

After a short conversation with my mother the white haired man went to a cupboard and retrieved a small package and brought it to the table. The package was about six inches square and wrapped in tin foil. The white haired man would open the package carefully. A cream colored block was inside; it was shiny and oozing with liquid. The white haired man called my brother and me over to the table.

My brother wouldn't come to the table, but I went over to see what the package contained. With me standing and him seated, we were eye to eye. I was about three years old at the time. I remember he had a slight build, a dark complexion, and a white stubble of a beard. His breath smelled strongly of garlic. He cut off a small section from the cream colored block and offered me a piece saying it was candy. I took it and tasted it gingerly. It was the sweetest candy I've ever tasted.

The only time I ever saw the white haired man smile was when I tasted the candy. He seemed pleased since my brother and mother didn't like the candy. Afterwards the white haired man would wrap up the candy in the tin foil and put it back in the cupboard. Shortly thereafter we would leave slowly descending the stairway.

When I was in my twenties I learned my grandfather on my mother's side was Greek, that his last name was Grivakis, and the candy I had back then was sesame halava. This is all I can remember or know of my grandfather. Today I had a piece of  halava I bought at the grocery store a few days ago and remembered my grandfather.

(photos taken from google images)


  1. What a great memory the whole thing so visual and full of detail! I love how food and smells can bring back strong memories.
    Every once in a while I crave halava , I ate quite a bit of it in my first pregnancy.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. What a great memory and I love your telling of it. I could easily envision it. I will have to try sesame halava as soon as I can find it. Perhaps the food coop.

    Second day in a row I've seen images on someone's blog of mysterious stairways. I used to dream of them, several flights up leading to the unknown... I'm going to keep my eyes open to see if another turns up. :)

  3. I thought you were copying a passage from a book at first.

  4. Beautiful memory....lovely that you you have this little gem.

  5. I had a fondness for the sesame kind in the past. Your memories have me smelling it again.

  6. Oh, Linda, what a fantastic story. I could see you standing there, tasting the halava (which I love). More of your stories, please.

  7. Hi Lori, thanks, yes I am kind of amazed that I can remember that my grandfather's breath smelled of garlic, Ha.

    Hi Teresa, thanks, I found it in the ethnic section of the grocery store, a few of them carry it. I love the stairways too, they do hold some mystery to them.

    Hi Melissa, thanks, sometimes these thoughts just come to me and I have to write them down.

    Hi Suzi, thanks, yes only wish I knew more.

    Hi Mary, thanks, the kind at the grocery store isn't like the kind I remember, perhaps it was homemade with an old Greek recipe.

    Hi Kittie, thanks, I haven't thought about that for a very long time and then the other day I remembered going to visit my grandfather.

  8. Beautifully written and evocative. Thank you for sharing the memory with us.

  9. What I like most about this story is the fairy tale quality of the telling. The drama of memory and nostalgia is strong and real. Love it. Gotta get me some halvah!

  10. Hi Elizabeth, thanks so much for your comment.

    Hi Michael, thanks, I was surprised to learn halava has so many different spellings depending upon which cultural it originates from, it is very sweet.


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