What Remains Unspoken Writing Contest

smiling person with long wavy dark hair in a light green sweater

Theresa Kopper

Theresa Kopper
Mar 18, 2024

Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Theresa Kopper has won our writing contest on the theme What Remains Unspoken with her piece "Tea with Diamonds'."

Theresa Kopper is an engineer,

and at night a tale teller

to her two toddlers.

What remains unspoken

In a hole in the sky nestled in the milky way sit two women having tea. One wears a platok covering silky gray hair, and the other a netela wrapped around tight, bright coils. In Between them is a vase of pink Lilies and a platter of sweets. Their movements are slow and their gazes warm. Behind them, a rainfall of stars illuminates every crease and cranny on their face. Their laughs are like crumbling boulders as they look down below to Earth.


My father told me that my sisters and I are tall on account of his mother, who was taller than her much older husband. He, my father, grew up in the hilly spine of Ethiopia. 

When people think of Ethiopia they often imagine dry cracked deserts and children with swollen bellies, but where my father lived the ground is red with iron and fertile like my grandmother who birthed 12 children. My father spent his boyhood singing to cattle at the top of his lungs while lounging on branches of coffee trees. 

My mother sang too. She left her village, filled with tiny houses covered with bright roofs, to study music in Minsk, Belarus. There, she lived among ballerinas who ate cigarettes for lunch and performers whose mischief kept their eyes twinkling.

As it turns out, that singing shepherd would become one of the first African students to attend a university in Minsk, and there he would meet the young blonde opera singer who wore pink flowers in her hair.

Chernobyl happened and this odd but beautiful couple would escape the USSR and settle in the land of Oz itself; Kansas, western Kansas to be exact. They took with them a six-year-old who had eyes the size of half her face and hair so curly it looked like cotton candy. That child being my oldest sister. My parents got married in a small town that smelled of cow dung when the winds blew east, and later had two more daughters. For her wedding, my mother wore a pink dress she bought for ten dollars from Goodwill and adorned her hair with lilies she picked from a garden. 

It’s an amazing story, no doubt about it. 

But there is a lot left unsaid.

I wish I could say I knew my grandmothers; I guess that’s the price a first-generation child pays when they are born in a foreign land. What I know is that my grandmothers are diamonds. Isn't it a wonder that diamonds are made of the same thing humans are, carbon. I like to think my grandmothers are sown into the very fabric of the universe like a pair of buttons, which only God’s hands can open.

I did meet my maternal grandmother. As a child my mom would pack my sister and I and we’d fly to Belarus on certain summers, there we would go visit mostly old women and have tea and lunch in little houses with brightly colored roofs. Every house had a garden, and every garden was filled with wildflowers. I remember having to use an outhouse in the middle of the night with only an old soviet magazine to keep me company. I look back at those summers like they were a fever dream.

It was not until I was older that I was told the story of my grandmother, only half understanding the mixture of Russian and Belarussian she spoke. Not everyone can say they are the granddaughter of a guerilla fighter who, between the ages of 14-17, fought Nazi’s in WW2. During that time, she lived in a forest thick with birch trees. To this day I wonder what the eyes on those trees have seen, and if they could whisper stories to the wind, what would they say? It sounds heroic. It is heroic. But mostly I think for her it was traumatic. It changed the atoms of her makeup. I wish I could go back in time and hear her stories without having to translate in my head, and ask her how she did it, how she continued? She was certainly made of stronger stuff. 

My paternal grandmother I never met. She was a regal woman with deep set eyes and a penchant for sweets which I inherited. I very much wish to have known her. Would she be proud of me? I take a lot after my father: his sharp tongue, his analytical mind, his love for stories; so, I think she would have recognized me. I would ask her how she managed to stay bound together after having twelve children and losing two. I have had two children and it has fundamentally changed my atoms. In some ways, I have lost pieces of myself that will never come back but in other ways I have gained an understanding that only duplicating your soul provides. She was built of stronger stuff. 

When I am especially doubtful, I remember these women. I am them. They are nestled in the bonds of what makes me, me. So maybe I am made of stronger stuff.

There is a trauma that comes when one is forced to flee their country and start on ground that has never met the likes of their feet. That trauma seeps itself languidly on the children of those immigrants like a frosting on a warm cake. My parents, against all odds, are still together to this day. I hope they understand how much I love them, and nothing is ever left unsaid. 

One day I will join those two women for tea. Stars will fall around us like gossamer waterfalls. It is then that everything left unspoken will be released.





Reviewed by Helen H.
See their Lists and Reviews in our Catalog!