Heads of Time and Garlic

Did you ever get a gift so incredible it left you both thrilled that you received it, and terrified you would wreck it?

I did.

The hand-lettered box with a Colver, PA return address label showed up unexpectedly on my desk last week. It smelled a little funky as I opened it and I wondered if someone from my dad’s hometown had sent me sausages, or cheese.

In fact, I glanced around at my co-workers as the increasingly strong scent of garlic wafted around me.

Then, I read the card.

“Laura, I hope you remember me. I brought your dad’s football picture to Central Cambria High School. Been following you on the Molly B and Me blog. Enjoy reading your adventures. I see you have gone to some chef classes and I thought you might be able to use this garlic. This garlic was brought back from Europe by fellow coal miners of your Pap and my Pap. It was smuggled out in snuff cans during the Iron Curtain era. If you want to continue this tradition, you can replant the individual cloves of garlic in your garden this spring. (Save one or two heads in order to do this.) Normally, I plant mine in October but you can plant it in the spring. Tell your mom and the rest of the family we said, “Hello.”  Bella Cucina – Buon Appetito! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Nick and Roseann Asashon”

Heads of garlic that traced their genus all the way back across an ocean and through several generations filled the box. The unlikely sight made me laugh, gave me goosebumps and took me back to a tiny town in Western Pennsylvania where green company houses with white front porches and giant backyard gardens lined the streets.

That night, as I crushed a precious clove to use for dinner, I could almost taste the fresh ham my grandma used to make when we’d come to visit.

I have to be honest, though, I’m a little panicked about keeping that garlic line alive. I’m all thumbs in the garden, and they’re not green ones either. And don’t even get me started on the rascally rabbits that roam our neighborhood chomping tender shoots as soon as they pop through the soil.

As directed, I’m storing the box in a cool, dry place. Between now and when I plant those babies, I’m going to be doing a lot of research on garlic cloves and how to raise them.

I really hope I’m up to the task.

I received a box full of historic garlic with instructions on how to store and grow it. I really hope I don’t accidentally kill that precious garlic.
I used two cloves in a risotto I made, which was pretty cool, but the best part was the memories that garlic inspired of my Grandma and the fresh ham she used to make.
I felt the occasion called for a celebratory glass of wine, and I plated the meal near an old lantern our Pap used in the mines. Miners back in my grandpa’s day had to buy their own equipment, and they only earned money from the coal they actually removed from the mine. They did all of the prep work on their own time. My Aunt Martha, our family historian, sent me a fascinating book called “Common Lives of Uncommon Strength” about the incredibly hard-working women of the Pennsylvania coal era (1880 -1970) but that’s a story for another day.
This is Nick Asashon, next to a picture of my dad he donated to Central Cambria County High School. We met Nick last year at the ceremony the school hosted to receive its golden football from the NFL and to retire my dad’s number.
Pap and Baby Butch
This is Pap and my Dad in Colver around 1940. My grandpa was a coal miner in Western Pennsylvania whose baby son grew up to play football in the NFL. When my dad signed his contract with the Packers, and members of the media came to their house on 20 Row in Colver, my Grandpa looked at all those reporters and said, “Hey! Why don’t you interview a man who works for a living!”


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