Like everybody else, I will be very happy to say goodbye to 2020, when I went the whole year without seeing my immediate family all together under one roof, even for a night; and watched people I love struggle to rebalance their relationships on solid, common ground in a brutally divisive climate; and worried every day that I was going to pass a confounding virus to some poor, unsuspecting soul; and had to bury a friend.
But, it is also the year I opened an unsolicited package from my dad’s hometown and discovered a garlic Christmas tree ornament.
I mean, come on! How great is this old world and the people on it?!
I first met Nick Asashon in Colver, Pennsylvania when my family and I arrived to celebrate Central Cambria High School’s retiring of my dad, Ron Kostelnik’s, football jersey. A high school friend of my dad’s, Nick arrived at the school with a giant, autographed photo of my dad that he donated to the school.
We struck up a somewhat unlikely friendship, given the distance between Colver, a little mining town my siblings and I found magical growing up, and Appleton, Wisconsin, where I live.
Then, one day, Nick sent me a box of garlic bulbs, and he has been patiently guiding me in the art of growing garlic ever since.
Last year, in a particularly humiliating fail, I actually lost the garlic plants. Unfortunately, I had ignored my whole little backyard loosely-defined garden for months, until I got an email from Nick that it was time to harvest the garlic.
I took a peek out there and wasn’t sure what to pluck. Giant orange lilies had taken over and, I think, muscled the poor garlic out. Of course, I felt terribly guilty that I had allowed this injustice to take place, and in my own backyard no less!
Sadly, though, it was too late. I did not update Nick on this embarrassing predicament, I just hoped the bulbs would rally there underground and mount a more forceful reclamation of their garden space next spring.
Then, this weekend, a box arrived from Colver with a familiar address and garlicky smell. I opened it and discovered, among the tinsel and unconventional Christmas (though very welcome replacement) bulbs, an ornament featuring a green and gold painted garlic bulb and a hand-lettered 77, my Dad’s number. Go Pack Go!
“I didn’t hear how your garlic came out this year, so I thought I would send you some. You can still plant some in the early spring if you didn’t already replant,” Nick wrote. “I also made you this special ornament for your Christmas tree with the help of my wife, Roseann and daughter Lisa. Eat one clove of garlic per wish for 2020 and it will keep you on your feet and also help with social distancing. Like my dad always said, ‘Garlic keeps bugs away (like the flu) and hopefully Coronavirus!”
I’ll tell you something else that miner’s garlic keeps away — any hint of a woe-is-me mood. I’m going to sprint to the finish of this year, fully of good cheer, gratitude and garlic.
Merry Christmas to all of you and I hope you all find some unexpected joys and garlic wishes under your tree too.