clare burson

silver and ash

2 . story

standing-cheese.jpg
‘you won’t believe this.
my father brought this from europe.
and it has been kept ever since.
you have to be very careful with it.
my father kept it, i kept it.
it’s a cheese.’
– jojo (my grandmother), may 2007
this project finds its beginnings in many places. perhaps the most interesting is pictured above: a 100+ year old wedge of cheese from eastern europe – from lithuania, to be more specific – and within lithuania, this cheese comes from the province of kaunas, referred to by my grandparents always as kovne guberniia.
in 1895, my great great grandmother gave this wedge of cheese to my 14 year old great grandfather when he left his shtetl (little village) in lithuania for south africa so as to avoid conscription in the tsar’s army. for some reason, my great grandfather, charles, never ate the cheese. nor did he throw it away. he took it with him to johannesburg, where he lived with his uncles for a time before striking out on his own, fighting in the boer wars, and, with the defeat of the dutch, moving yet another world away – to memphis, tn, where he married and had four daughters.
strangely still in possession of the cheese when he died, my great grandfather passed it down to my grandmother.
my parents discovered the cheese in the early 1970’s when my mom took on the project of refurbishing the trunk my great grandfather had shlepped from lithuania to south africa to memphis. when she opened it for the first time, she found a desiccated wedge of something resembling a pumice stone, dusty, and wrapped in a disintegrating cheese cloth.
i guess my mom gave it back to my grandmother for safe keeping. my grandmother still has it, wrapped in aluminum foil in a paper envelope labeled: papa’s cheese.
a rather strange family heirloom, i think you’d agree. it certainly gives new meaning to the idea of aged cheese.
it also inspired me to create a body of work that could explore my family history and my complex relationship with it in a relevant and resonant way.

4 Comments»

  Jennie wrote @

Wow, Clare. That is an incredible family heirloom. Your family seems to have left lithuania around the same time my Dad’s family did.

  clareburson wrote @

thanks, jennie.
where in lithuania is your family from?
and how are you and will?

  Jennie wrote @

I just saw this over 6 months later. I’m not sure where they are from. No one really talked about the “old country” and my grandfather was the youngest of 8 or 9 siblings.

Will and I are great. I’m watching the snowfall and thinking I’m back in New England today.

[…] to her grandmothers’ homes in Tennessee, interviewed them about the old world, saw some hundred-year-old cheese, and came back with a thematically watertight album of soft Indie folk/pop, filled with excellent […]


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