Without fail every October my grandpa would say to me, “You better get yourself some garlic and plant it Christopher.” I never listened, for decades! I’d help him sometimes but not really to the point of caring or wanting to learn simply the level of getting to spend time with my grandpa. Every year he would plant garlic in October and harvest it the following summer. A few days later after the dirt had dried on the bulbs, he would meticulously braid the stems and leaves into a vegetal work of art hanging in the carport for the final round of drying and then into the shed or garage for storage. He or my grandma would break off a bulb or two as needed in cooking. “Christopher, you should really think about planting yourself some garlic. It tastes so much better than what you get in the store.” One day I’ll listen.
Honestly, I have grown garlic over the years with moderate success. Without fail I forget to plant in the fall for a myriad of excuses, but mostly negligence and laziness. I’ll throw some seed garlic in the ground in the spring and get a decent row of smaller heads that are tasty but not worth the trouble to peel a itty bitty clove for cooking. The 2022 season was my best season. I planted a couple rows the first week of November 2021 and tended it a bit by hoeing the dirt and pulling leaves. The heads were decent in size, not like those vegetable glamour shots you see plastered on the web and in magazines. I learned though that if I wanted bigger bulbs I needed to pick the scape, the part that grows out of the stem eventually forming the chive-like flower, so energy is transferred to the bulb away from the flower. (The scape is one of the most delicious things I may have ever eaten from the garden by the way. If you see them in the store or at the market, don’t be scared, buy them and enjoy!) Come harvest, there was enough garlic to make jars of tomato sauce or store in the pantry for special dishes. Not bad.
The fall of 2022 I was determined to get it right. As soon as the garden center by our house had seed garlic available, I went and bought a few pounds. I added some mushroom manure to the designated garlic patch and worked the dirt to a nice texture for planting. Each clump of dirt I broke in my hands I saw my grandpa’s hands and could visualize him bending to one knee and leaning on his shovel and crushing dirt between his thumb and fingers. I’m planting garlic this year grandpa.
Just before the first frost I remember peering through the mudroom windows and seeing the leaves – golden, rusty, yellow. Fall was here, the earth was dying and the liveliness of the natural world in retreat for the long winter. I began thinking more about my grandpa and how much I missed him. It has been almost ten years since he died.
I have never been with anyone when they died and though it is weird, I always thought I would get to be with grandpa. You know? Have one of those conversations where he tells me things will be alright, he would be alright and we would see each other again one day. I arrived at the hospital about five minutes after he had passed. He was just there, still in the bed, my grandmother softly brushing the seven hairs on his shiny bald head to the side, my mom and aunt crying. Moments passed, grandma said his hands were cold and I went to him, grabbed his hand, kissed his forehead and said goodbye.
Of all those lessons he taught and conversations we had from his garden, not just about gardening but about life, how I longed to hear his voice, “You ought to plant yourself some garlic.” I sniffled out a laugh and then headed out to the garlic patch. I broke up the bulbs and began sinking the individual cloves into the earth basal plate down and thinking of grandpa and feeling his presence and telling him, “I’m doing it. You ask Jesus to make it grow.”
Now it is April! It is Easter! Christ is risen! The whole world cannot contain itself in the earthen tomb of winter and is in resurrection! And I, this Easter morning, am standing in the garlic patch in the garden. You ought to see it! Every one of those lifeless cloves I buried in the dirt sprouted and is vigorously reaching heavenward toward the sun. Not only that, but the daffodils have exploded while the blue bells and trillium sway over the little dutchman’s britches dancing in the breeze. The redbuds are starting to show off their amethyst flowers as the towering hardwood thinks about leafing out in the warm spring air.
I can not help but stand here and think about my grandpa and the prospect of seeing him again at the resurrection and restoration of all things. This day now, even more so, I think about Christ rising from the dead and appearing to the apostles on Easter morning. They took his lifeless, cold body and buried it in a tomb only to see him full of vigor, drinking, cooking, eating, conversing and reconciling mere days later. What was it like for Mary Magdalene to hear him say her name? What did that burning heart feel like as the disciples heard his voice again on the road to Emmaus? What thoughts ran through the apostles minds as Jesus offered them breakfast? How did it resonate for Peter as Christ restored his seat?
I am overcome just by standing in a little patch of sprouting garlic! Odd I know. But this small garden victory is a reminder that Christ has conquered death for each of us not just in the future at the moment of my particular death, but that I can reap the rewards of Jesus Christs’ victory here and now. Maybe it’s hearing Jesus call my name in the Sacrament of reconciliation, maybe it’s seeing Him in the Blessed Sacrament, and maybe, it’s in the glories of springtime.
Wishing you all a joyous Easter! See you next time around the campfire.