The Butter Dish

October 11, 2014

“O, Allah,” she cried. “If only you would rescue me from this slavery I would be greatful to you until the end of time.”…

Each of the more than 80 posts I have made on this blog are based on pieces of writing I had published somewhere else first.

The piece I am about to post here has never been published before. It was part of course work for a Folklore course I took that counted towards my Bachelor of Arts with a major in history at the University of Winnipeg.

It is based on one of the stories my Great-Grandmother Sophia told her ten children during the dark winter evenings while they were growing up on Lake Winnipeg; first at Fort Alexander and then at Victoria Beach. I believe it was her way of connecting her children to Lebanon, the country of her birth and that of her husband’s.

When I was taking the Folklore course, I met with my Great Aunt Pansy and Louisa who agreed to tell me the stories their mother had told them. You might find that The Butter Dish has a story telling rather than literary style to it:

The Butter Dish
by Tanya Lester

Sophia is an eleven year old kid who lives in a log house with her mother and father and eight younger brothers and sisters on the east shore of Lake Winnipeg. Her old Arabic grandmother lives with them in a room off the kitchen.

Sometimes, after it gets dark outside, the old Arabic Nanny will say to Sophia, “Sophia, light the fire and gather the children around it.”

Sophia hauls in an armful of cut birch logs from the woodbox in the porch. Puts a match to crumpled newspaper and wood chips. Piles a couple of logs on top of the flame.

She rounds up her eight younger brothers and sisters. They are all bathed and ready for bed. Two sisters wear striped pyjamas. Two brothers were bunny rabbits. Two other sisters wear cowboys and the smallest two brothers are in penguins. They all wear wool slippers with pom-poms on them knitted by their mother. Sometimes they don’t always match,

Sophia stays in her sweatshirt and jeans.

All the children sit or lean or lay around the fireplace. Their cheeks glow red and their eyelids droop as they listen to Nanny’s stories.

Nanny sits on the fireplace’s stone ledge like a shrinkly, wrinkly gnome who grows older and older and older. She takes the children on long journeys over oceans, across deserts and into the shade of the trees in an ancient country named Lebanon.

In that kingdom, as Nanny tells it, the princess goes to live with the common people, ghosts rise out
of an oasis well and demons drowned.

So, too, lived the woman who worked hard all her life. In the spring, she watered the grapes. In the summer, she picked their leaves to roll around mutton and rice. She danced on their fruit to make wine in the fall. And in the winter she tended potatoes around the eather where the grapes would grow again on the next spring.

Then, of course, there was her vegetable garden round the back of the house. And the olive grove. And the cooking and cleaning in her earthen home. And the journey to market where she rode behind a donkey once a week pulling a cart filled with the fruits and vegetables she would barter with the rich when she reached the village.

To be sure, the woman’s husband did help but he often grew sleepy of an afternoon and would knock off for the rest of the day.

So each morning, it was the woman’s custom to be out in the fields already at dawn when she said her morning prayers to Allah. “O, Allah,” she cried. “If only you would rescue me from this slavery I would be grateful to you until the end of time.”

For thirty years and three months and three days, the woman prayed the same prayer to Allah, her God, each morning.

Then on the thirtieth year, on the third month and on the third day, a man happened by the field just as the woman was moaning, “O, Allah. If only you would rescue me from this slavery I would be greatful to you until the end of time.”

“Come,” the man said to the woman with a motion of his hand. “Allah in his great mercy has answered your prayers.”

The woman ran inside her house, roused her husband, and threw together some cheese and pita bread. She put the lunch and a change of clothes into a sack and the three set off.

After travelling for three days and three nights, they reached the foot of a castle. “This shall be all yours,” the traveller told the woman with a sweep of his arm. “There is only one thing I ask. In the diningroom on the table sits a gold butter dish. You must never open it for if you fall prey to your own curiousity, you shall be banished from the castle and spend the rest of your life living from the sweat of your brow.”

Oh, how the woman and her husband loved that castle! The woman spent every day eating as much as she could eat, reading as much as she could read and sleeping as much as she could sleep. Nights, she held splendid parties and invited the people from all over the countryside.

Still, it did not take long for the woman to grow bored and she found herself sitting at the long varnished diningroom table, wondering what was under the shiny gold butter dish.

In the end, she could stand it no longer and rushed at the butter dish like a magpie after a gold coin. “Just one little peek under the lid,” she said to herself.

But although she lifted the lid only a crack, there was still room enough for a beautiful white plumed parrot to fly out from under it and straight to the traveller to tell of the woman’s fall to her own curiousity.

And the woman spent the rest of her days toiling by the sweat of her brow.

After Nanny is done telling her story, Sophia carries the sleeping children, one after another, to the three beds crammed into the bedroom they all share.

Sophia puts on her nightie and sometimes dreams of picking up the lid on the gold butter dish. Sometimes she opens it to find she is an only child. Sometimes she is grown up and is a glamourous lawyer in a courtroom like the one she sees on T.V.

To read the first posts in this blog, please go to
Facebook. LinkedIn. Twitter. Google.
Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester can be purchased from the author or by going to the title and author name– to read the first few pages and buy it– at
Tanya Lester’s other books are Dreams & Tricksters Friends I Never Knew and Women Rights/Writes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s