To a Wise Woman, Garlic Held The Answers To Life's Quandaries
I wonder how any of us can ever become who we're really meant to be without first shedding that protective layer we all wear so well. Garlic looks so deceiving. You got to get inside a person--like with garlic.
We were in the kitchen and as usual, I was relegated to the mundane duty of opening wine. In this house, there was only one cook. I was the sampler, occasionally invited to stir a pot while she chopped garlic in artistic style, again insisting that the misshapen cloves were key ingredients for every recipe.
I had to laugh at her endless, yet impassioned assertions that many of life's lessons could also be discovered from cooking with the wily bulb. Waving knife in hand, the kitchen her stage, she liked to discuss esoteric similarities lost on many, yet understood and reserved for a soul held softly in the hands of the Divine.
To her, garlic simply held the answers to all life's quandaries. Her name was Julie, but only mom called her that. To the rest of us she was Geege, a pet name sounding like Judge, only with the long E.
"Did you ever really look at garlic?" She asked with big eyes. "
"Not too much." I replied.
"It's nothing to look at, but it's so awesome once it's peeled. It reminds me of me when I was young and afraid."
"That's why we call you Geege--Garlic Geege!" I laughed.
As I reached for the bottle of wine, she watched me in disbelief. After all, this was garlic we were talking about. Pouring the wine, I offered the toast.
"May garlic always be in your life." I clinked her glass.
"It's already in my life." She replied and toasted back. "I only hope you find it too."
We had no idea that in another year, at the age of 40, she would be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease resulting in liver failure. However painful, Geege would accept her diagnosis with optimism and incredible courage. At the time she was balancing a marriage, raising two daughters and running a flower shop. If she had a premonition that her time was near, she offered no insight that evening.
"I wonder how any of us can ever become who we're really meant to be without first shedding that protective layer we all wear so well? And you know," she held up a whole garlic head, "it looks so deceiving. You got to get inside a person." She scrunched tiny shoulders and giggled as she tossed me the gnarly cluster. "Just like with garlic."
God, I miss those precious hours and that spicy, lingering scent that filled the house. And for a long time after, I thought about our discussions, always peppered with her sage insight. Of course it wasn't just the excellent food, but a rare chance to share an essence of life with a girl I loved dearly. Where, I asked myself now, did that time go? Those fleeting moments held close in my heart now seemed blended with a sudden and painful dose of life's realities.
After months of battling, searching for a transplant, I gingerly entered her room. With tubes and needles inserted she'd let go her need for answers. Instead, with a forced smile, she fixed me with dark eyes and seemed to exist in the moment, visibly grateful for the opportunity to live and to love for one more day. I searched her hand for assurance, but in my heart I knew she was dying and I had no idea how to tell the others.
A few months before she'd asked me to speak at her funeral and I cried. No, I wouldn't. There would be no funeral and she would make it. Like garlic, she was resilient. After, she held me as I sobbed and when I was finished, when I was again intent on forcing life to keep her, to give her the time we needed, she stared into my eyes and I knew. I knew it would be soon.
As she faded, I sat beside her. Tangled beneath a wadded gown and hospital covers, her thick, dark hair was matted. Machines whirled and beeped as I stayed near. Eyes closed, I knew she couldn't continue to fight this battle. New blood would give her life for another day, but the reality was clear. She was leaving soon.
When she finally opened her eyes, I tried to offer a smile through my tears, but merged souls already have an understanding. They seem to know, to communicate without words. She found my hand and squeezed. Finally I had to ask.
"Geege, what should I say? What should I tell them?"
Oblivious to her wishes and stymied in my own sorrow, I must not have heard her whispered reply, or perhaps I was simply filled with too much anger, but in patient verse she repeated herself.
"More Garlic." She said.
And again, her words brought me back. It was to be our last visit in the kitchen--a brother and a sister, aging and looking back, but finally with enough understanding to contemplate life with certain humility. I wish I'd understood then that the prophecy of her final words would impact me so greatly.
A pot simmered, and she'd finally stopped her sacred ritual with the illustrious bulb. Then she turned to me in serious tone.
"Name me someone who hasn't been called to the stage of life after being chopped and smashed, and yet, aren't we still expected to somehow enhance the show? You know, it might just be the finale and that's all right too, but I think we just have to give it our all."
She lived two years with her donated liver--not nearly enough time, but forever for someone like Geege. You see, in her struggle she ultimately discovered that each day is indeed a gift and tomorrow does not always come.
Article Tags: Life's Quandaries
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chuck Machado is a writer living in Santa Fe. He is also President of New Mexico Chile Company.