Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Memory Garden

It’s a kohlrabi.  I’ll get to that part in a bit.  

I have been remembering gardens lately.  Gardens of my young childhood, because I don’t remember them appearing after fifth or sixth grade.  Garbanzo beans, green beans, wax beans, shelly beans, potatoes, zucchini, tomatoes, corn, carrots, butternut squash, cucumbers, sugar pumpkins, big and knobby jack-o-lantern pumpkins…

And always, interesting bugs, the summer-earth smell of green that got stirred up by my legs, the tickle of the leaves, the way you had to be careful squatting down to look at something interesting because the rows in between weren’t that wide and you didn’t want to tip and break delicate stems; the watering bucket, the bushel baskets, the canning jars, the garden hose.

There was the year of my father growing chili peppers to dry and use…and he told me, his ever-curious daughter, chubby handed and about six years old, Do NOT touch the peppers, especially if they are red…even THOUGH they are bright and red.  And he related the story of why…which involved his hands swelling and itching and a trip to the emergency room.  Somehow, the story just wasn’t enough…and yep, I touched the peppers…a little.  And spent the day itching the daylights out of my palms by rubbing them up and down my shorts.  Dad never said a word, though he surely noticed. He didn’t need to.  I’ve never touched one with a bare hand since.

I remember too sitting on card table chairs in the garage with my grandmother.  We each had a brown paper grocery sack of shelly beans and a colander. I have no idea what the beans are actually called.  We only ever called them shelly beans.  And that’s what we’d sit there together and do…pop the pods, beans into the colander, pods back into the sack….until the beans were done. I loved the way the freshly shelled beans looked and felt…so cool, so smooth, so pretty—all salmon colored and flecked with brick red.  

There are single memories too…the sound of the rattle on the top of my other grandmother’s pressure cooker; the year my uncle stuck a cherry firecracker inside one of the ears of corn in the corn row and then lit it to explode while we were walking several stalks behind him; Kool-Aid ice-cubes in repurposed yogurt cups; unexpectedly finding the garter snake underneath the large leaves of a zucchini plant…and shrieking to high holy heaven.

Then there’s kohlrabi. 

We grew kohlrabi too. But they never made it into the house. My father, uncle, grandfather, and brother would pick them, hose them off, and stand bent over in the garden eating them like apples.  

I read about them again recently and enquired at the farmers market here on the harbor-front.  They were in last week and I bought one.

I cut it into little planks and roasted it with a dribble of olive oil and coarse salt.  Delicious.  It stayed crunchy, had a great texture and a clean green taste, and was actually refreshing—not an attribute I normally ascribe to a vegetable.

I thought of Hurley, Jerry, Roy, and my brother while I ate some of the sticks and shared them with the others who were home.  I thought of them, and sparklers, and homemade ice-cream and my mother laying claim to the paddle in the middle, licking it clean while standing in the middle of the yard.  

Good times.  I am glad for those memories.  And I’m glad to know of kohlrabi first hand, 40+ years later.  

I can't but think with a chuckle that they are probably wondering what took me so long.  

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