A Garlic Encounter




          I grew up without garlic. Not one scent or taste. My late father, faithful to Irish ancestors, held steadfast antipathy for the bulb. Best I recollect, nary a clove entered his mouth or Mom’s kitchen.
She preferred to season food with onions. Other than parsley and mashed potatoes, I hardly knew a spud Mom didn’t bless with the common yellow onion, her culinary workhorse. She sliced for scalloped, diced for fried, and minced for au gratin.
On special occasions, she served sour cream and chives with baked Idaho potatoes, and the sweet Vidalia blended in summer’s creamy potato salad. Yet, her onion was not for the potato alone.
Come summer, she’d caramelize onion slices in bacon grease and add zucchini. My all time favorite is fresh greasy beans boiled with onion wedges and pork. An Appalachian side dish, the green shallot accented her pinto beans and cornbread pair. With this bountiful, delicious variety of alliums, I had no cause to encounter garlic.
          Until one splendid Saturday my junior year in high school. Miss Mac, my academic counselor and cheerleading sponsor, drove our cheer squad to Northwood Institute in Midland for competition. We carried no award away that perfect, sunny day when Miss Mac turned north to her parents’ home. I had never stepped beyond Flint, so it seemed the drive took forever.
          “Do you girls want to go to the Music Box tonight?” Miss Mac asked.
          Mind, I loved to dance, and from what I’d heard, the Music Box’s reputation for great dancing and cute college guys was unmatched in Michigan. But how did Miss Mac know about the Music Box?
          At last, she parked her car before a large cabin and led us through the front door into a mouthwatering aroma that wanted to buckle my knees with hunger.
Miss Mac lifted her soft voice. “Mom, Dad, we’re here.”
Her mother greeted us with a smile and apron tied around her wide waist. She reminded me of Granny. “How was your drive, Helen?”
So that was Miss MacDonald’s name. And what smells so scrumptious?
I hope I washed my hands and minded my manners that night. All I remember of her mother’s meal is hot, steamy garlic bread wrapped in aluminum foil. Miss Mac’s parents smiled at my friends and me in amusement.
We tidied our hair and cheerleading outfits best we could for our debut to Prudenville’s entertainment phenomenon. Excitement overcame my self-consciousness. It seemed odd to dance in my uniform.
Miss Mac lay down on the sofa. “My father will drive you girls to the Music Box. He’s a guard there and will bring you home.”
The dance floor was gigantic compared to The Chatterbox in Warren. The night passed in constant bliss, dancing with my friends and not enough cute guys.
Dear Reader, I woke the next morning in the house where Miss Mac grew up with garlic. Although Mom didn’t appreciate my cheer for Mrs. MacDonald’s bread, my daughters grew up with two workhorses in the kitchen. Garlic and onions.

Waiting for Our Chicken Chair


When I was a Mouseketeer fan, I’d sit sideways in our wingback chair, sling my legs over an arm. Cuddled there, I devoured spoonfuls of Jif, wished to dance and sing like Annette Funicello.
Before the wingback knew what happened, American Bandstand ambushed my childhood with backcombed hair. One day in the 60’s, Art Van delivered new living room furniture to our home, what today’s manufacturers tag “mid-century.” The starchy style permitted no comfortable way to lounge and watch television.
My parents banished the old chair to the basement. Occupied with cheerleading practice after school, I forgot my rendezvous with the best seat in the house, until time for The Fugitive.
I needed my cozy chair to ease the suspense and violence of Dr. Richard Kimble’s plight that fateful August night, 1967. Neighborhood friends gathered round our television with my sisters and me for the concluding fistfight between the innocent doctor and guilty one-armed man. Justice at last prevailed with a gunshot from the relentless Lieutenant Gerard.
Barely two months after my high-school commencement, The Fugitive marked my right of passage into the unknown challenges of independence, responsibility, and integrity. Four years later, I found myself in Eastland’s J.L. Hudson where I sat in a wingback chair upholstered with green corduroy.
“What do you think?” I asked my young husband.
 For the past forty-five years, we’ve hauled our favorite chair from house to house, the first and sole survivor of our upholstered furniture. When we moved here twenty-seven years ago, our wingback wanted another facelift. We bought new furniture instead. We hid our old girl upstairs in the guest room.
One bright day, the idea of a slipcover struck me. As if it knew its place, miraculously converted into our “chicken chair” with a hens and rooster print, she ended up in the sunny, kitchen corner. Perfect location for reading and bird watching.
“I forgot how comfortable this chair is,” my older husband said.
Too comfortable. Our senior citizen behinds sank into the broken-down frame, and the slipcover wouldn’t stay put. Regardless, our guests gravitated to our chicken chair, fell into her maternal embrace.
Praise be, dear Reader! A local businesswoman referred a craftsman who fetched our darling to rebuild and upholster her for an affordable cost.
We waited almost three weeks for her return. The reading lamp in the empty kitchen corner dozed over the enameled magazine bucket, a find from Armada’s flea market. The milk stool laid low holding Rodale’s book on composting. Forlorn for our friend, we speculated our chicken chair’s transformation.
Truly, she’s charming with her hundreds of little hens. To celebrate her rebirth, today I sat sideways and munched on peanut butter, observed what I hope is Spring’s last snowfall.
I pondered the unjust way of justice, the life of Annette Funicello, her suffering with multiple sclerosis. That she danced and sang when she could is some consolation. America’s Sweetheart left this earth three years ago this month. Do you hear her singing?


The Rescuers

Madeline of GrowTown installs Grosso from Yule Love It Lavender Farm in Detroit's Penrose Garden
I’m reflecting on relationships and a remarkable friend who rescued a promise I could not fulfill alone.
          It all began weeks ago when Beth phoned. We met several years back during the Horticultural Therapy Association Conference at MSU. Afterward, Beth, a landscape architect, hired my staff and me to install a lavender promenade in the Lafayette Greens Urban Garden downtown Detroit. What fun wearing a construction helmet on the hottest day in July.
A heart for connecting plants with people, Beth asked if I would provide lavender for another community garden she’s installing in Detroit. She needed 60 Grosso plants for her GrowTown Garden.
I had at least 60 healthy Grosso plants that needed rescuing. Enthused, I forgot my bum knee and offered to dig them up from my fading lavender fields. I also forgot the variety is named Grosso because it’s huge. We set a date for my site visit to GrowTown.
When I exited I75 west onto 7 Mile Road, my heart pained at the trash, emblematic of the neighborhood’s ruin. The Yacama Street sign flashed me back to 1954 and my family’s residence as tender transplants from Kentucky. The large, sparkling windows of Brown’s Creamery on the corner of Yacama and Seven Mile were long gone. I wept for the wasteland.
Beth understood. Her calling is to nurture strong ties of affection between people and landscapes, Nature and the human spirit. Mankind is an analogist, and sees personal relations in objects and creatures. Trowels. Sunflowers. Bees.  The Apostle Paul described the human corpse a seed. “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.”
Dear Reader, with this faith in Beth’s vision for GrowTown, I phoned a friend who might help rescue my promise. She said yes.
MaryEllen comes from stout Finnish stock. As a child, she dug up worms to fish with her father in their Minnesota homeland. Her husband’s career as a photographer brought her to Michigan where they raised three children. You learn such intimacies working shoulder-to-shoulder in fields planting, weeding, and harvesting in mercurial weather.
“I’ll bring my shovel,” MaryEllen said.
Under Tuesday’s spring sun, we cut weed cloth and yanked staples from around thirty lavender plants, dug them out and bagged them by 6 p.m.
“Thirty to go,” I said. “MaryEllen, I’ll never ask you to work this hard again.”
She smiled at another promise. “Right now, there’s no other place I’d rather be.”
What high praise for living things!
The following day, we fell shy twenty plants when we discovered disease on the remaining chosen Grosso. I called Beth and apologized. “The forty healthy plants are mammoth. I think they’ll be enough.”
Beth just emailed her report. “All went well today - We got all the plants in - was glad I wore my snow pants this morning!! They are all nestled into their new home and have already attracted much interest from people driving by while we were planting.”
Blessed be my rescuers, for they shall inherit bundles of lavender.

Lessons from the Birthing Season




Morning has broken
Like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken

Like the first bird.
Praise for the singing,
Praise for the morning,
Praise for them springing

Fresh from the Word.         Eleanor Farjeon, 1931

When the earth thawed our first spring in the country, a new world awoke before me. Nature seized my senses, began my education of her birthing season.
An outstanding memory is the sound of lowing cattle wafting from our neighbor’s farm across the road to our backyard. Twilight sparkled like Mom’s eyes when she spoke of her family’s milk-cow.
Later, as I strolled past our neighbor’s pastures, a curious fulfillment and yearning rose up within me when I spied a calf nursing from its mother. The scent of cool earth mingled with manure and comforted me.
During those young springs, I explored our roads and wilderness surrounding our land. It felt like hiking my Appalachian mountains. As they sprouted in birth order, I learned to name skunk cabbage, swamp marigold, trout lily, white and red trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, columbine, and wild geranium. The forager in my genes transplanted roots from forest to around our house, a new build void of one leaf, blade, or bloom. Oh, I had so much to learn.
One April, I spied white buds on a hillside of Edison’s easement beside our Natural Beauty Road, a former cow path. Two men lounged in the shade nearby the wildflowers, bulldozers ready to remove more virgin vegetation and trees.
“I’d like to rescue some of those white flowers, if you don’t mind,” I said.
The men looked to where I pointed as if they hadn’t noticed. “Take all you want.”
That bag of bloodroot returns every year with offspring breaking soil from the mother plant’s seedpods. If you blink, you might miss bloodroot’s brief flourish. I’ve since borrowed roots from my flowerbeds for a sprinkle of unfurling petals under my redbud and Bradford pear.
This parade of beauty follows what I anticipate most come mid-March: the love song of the Spring Peepers, those camouflaged, amorous male amphibians who wait all winter, just like robins do, to belt out whistles to their mate.
Their chorus rises from marshes where tadpoles swim throughout our countryside. Although we know winter is probably poised for at least one final swagger, the Peepers say her time is at end. Glory Hallelujah!
Praise those frogs for singing! Just think, Dear Reader, the Peepers’ song announces the spring hatching, calving, and lambing season. On this gusty morning, farmers watch their herds and shepherds their flocks for the newborn’s first cry. The poet’s words resound, true and faithful.

Sweet the rain’s new fall,
Sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall
On the first grass;
Praise for the sweetness
Of the wet garden,
Sprung in completeness
Where His feet pass.

Mine is the sunlight,
Mine is the morning,
Born of the one light

Eden saw play.
Praise with elation,
Praise every morning,
God’s re-creation

Of the new day.