Root vegetables

The pungent package arrived without a return address, but I knew exactly where it came from.

Nick Asashon has been sending me miner’s garlic every year since 2016, when he mailed me the first batch and connected me to Colver, Pennsylvania, a little mining town I used to love to visit, but haven’t seen since my Grandma died 20 years ago.

Like many residents of Colver, Pennsylvania, including my Pap, Nick made his living as a coal miner. A company town founded Coleman and Weaver, owners of the Ebensburg Coal Company, Colver drew immigrants from Ukraine, Poland and other areas of Central Europe. My dad grew up in Colver on 20 Row, the same street that housed his maternal and paternal grandmas, a couple of aunts and uncles and some cousins. I’ve written before about how much he loved his childhood there, where a single sled ride from the top of 20 Row down to the mine below could take all morning and a kid could spend the whole day roaming the woods behind his house.

Nick went to high school with my dad and I met him during my dad’s golden football ceremony at Central Cambria High School. He’s a witty, friendly guy who worked hard all his life. In retirement, he maintains an impressive garden and rows of garlic descended from the ones Ukrainian miners brought over when they came to Colver.

Literally, Nick sends me my roots every year. I think that’s pretty amazing.

The layers of that garlic run deep.

Sometimes, when inspiration hits, I cook a meal that reminds me of my grandma — pork roast with fresh garlic and sauerkraut (she called it fresh ham), halubki, kielbasa — and for a couple of hours my kitchen smells like hers did. It feels extra special to shake the actual soil of her hometown off the garlic I use in the pork roast and to trace her history through the garlic right back to Western Ukraine.

I’ll plant a few of those bulbs too and hope they take root in my tiny backyard garden (and that, when they do, I don’t forget to harvest them).

Meanwhile, I’m more grateful than I can say for Nick Asashon and the gift he sends me and my family every year.

This is Nick with the picture of my dad he restored for the celebration at Central Cambria High School in January of 2016.
This is the box he sent me this year. Nick’s a Steeler’s fan and the note he sent this year reads, “Since both of our teams stink this year, I thought the smell of garlic would make things smell better. Hope “the Pack” makes it to the playoffs for good old “77”.
I have the lantern Pap used when he was a miner. Way back then they had to buy their own equipment and they only got paid for the coal they mined, not for any of the time they spent getting to that coal. I treasure that garlic as much as the lantern because they remind me of a little mining town and all the people I love who lived there once upon a time.

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