Memories of Artichokes

by K.A.S.

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” Sue Monk Kidd

Family is rare in this city and more so those that love each other. The above statement made me realize that I have memories tucked away in corners that rarely are visited upon. So, with time on my hands as the baby sleeps, I eat my lunch and visit.

Retold for my Grandma B who is always tenderhearted. My Mom who gave all her wisdom to me. My Aunt D who taught me how to laugh.

~ It’s a warm spring day and my mother has decided to share the day with her own mother over lunch. We pile into the brown Suburban and find ourselves weaving through the back woods of Rhode Island. Lunch at Grandma B’s house is no small thing. There’s always something on the stove cooking and egg biscuits with colored sprinkles in the jar. She greets us at the door with wide open arms. Immediately, the smell of parsely, garlic and olive oil greet us. But the most distinct smell is that of artichokes. Today will be a good day.

We gather around the long oval table. The sun’s rays pour in through the french doors. The table is lined with the week’s newspaper, each place setting has a bowl and a napkin (maybe more) and warm loaf of homemade bread sits in the middle of the table.

Artichokes aren’t for everyone and so the only people around this table our my grandmother, mother, mentally handicapped aunt and me. The conversation around the table is about the day, what’s growing in the gardens, and what is going on in our big Italian family. There’s a flow to the conversation as we scrape the yummy bits of artichoke leaf and throw the remaining on the table. There are no manners while eating artichokes. The only utensils being used are our fingers and no one cares if you talk with your mouth full. However, there is a certain point at which the table becomes silent. It’s a rare thing around an Italian table but when a person reaches the heart of the artichoke…it’s a sacred moment. Especially, for the person who reaches it first. This time it is my aunt. The juices are flowing down her hand in golden hues and as she takes a bite, the table erupts.
“Is it good? What did it taste like?”
She laughs and smiles and with a grin so big, says, “It’s REALLY good!”
The rest of us begin our own food orgasms as we bite into the heart. Nothing ever tasted so good and all of us around the table begin to say the 13th letter of the alphabet. The end is near and yet because we’re not ready for the journey to end, we take the bread and break it into pieces and soak up the olive oil and juices that the artichokes cooked in, scooping up whatever leftover breadcrumbs fell off the artichokes. A quietness again comes over the table but this time it is because the journey is over. Our bellies are full. We’ll do this again next year when the artichoke is about to bloom. ~

…As I sit today at my own table, having my own artichoke, cooked to perfection just like my grandmother would have done (“Katie, you can never have enough olive oil”). I sit and reminisce about those moments. There aren’t many things these day that bring together generations that love the same thing. These are the women I broke bread with and will forever love the memories they hold, the stories that were told and the lessons I learned from these woman.