“Don’t listen to her,” my grandfather would warn. “She ate poison ivy.”
“Just once,” she answered, smiling at Grandpa to show he hadn’t gotten under her skin. In a lower voice, aimed at me and my sister, she said, “It was awful.”
Way back in the old days, when her children were young, Grandma was a Girl Scout leader. She informed her troops that she’d discovered wild strawberries in the woods. There was no fruit to be found, but she bit into a leaf.
“My entire mouth was on fire. I got poison ivy hives from the inside out.”
I preferred scratching my mosquito bites down to rows of scabs. That’s how much I hated itching. “All the way down your throat? Into your stomach?” I imagined worms wiggling under my skin, thinking about itching way deep in the gut.
Grandma said, “I spit it out, didn’t swallow a bit, but my whole body broke out. Everywhere. I really know the difference now.”
Grandpa didn’t caution us further; he wasn’t the type to repeat himself. He expected his words to be understood and followed, the first time he spoke them.
No matter what he said, we trusted her. She was our Grandmother. She could nurse an injured bird back to health, prepare a pasta dinner for 70 people, spin a cartwheel and do the splits, and name the birds just by hearing their songs.
So I opened my mouth, let her place a leaf on my tongue, and tasted spearmint.
There are words to describe abundance. When I think of a bountiful harvest, the pictures in my mind are not fields.
Instead, I see:
A mulberry tree providing food all afternoon as I read in its branches
Grandpa with his wheel of cheese, the biggest I’ve ever seen, patiently grating a chunck by hand
The loaves of bread my great-grandmother baked every day, rain or shine
A fig tree in my grandparents’ backyard, branches drooping, loaded with fruit
The vacant lot at the corner where Grandma sent Kelli and me to pull up chicory. We brought armfuls into the warm kitchen and she tossed the greens with boiled noodles.
Apples from the backyard tree, peeled, sliced, and coated with cinnamon and sugar for pie
Grandpa stirring a giant pot full of mustard greens, the fumes stinging our eyes. The air filling with the odor – it smelled like pee.
A long line of rhubarb by the back fence
Each of us with a bowl of popcorn, my Grandpa reclined, the bowl planted on his chest and his tongue darting out like a lizard’s for each kernel.
One mound of vanilla ice cream covered in Grandma’s home-made chocolate sauce
Some things in life are perfect.
My grandparents taught me that food is everywhere.
And the number one ingredient in every meal is love.