Artichoke shape


             Jack bought the artichoke plant at the nursery even though he knew the odds were against it—the Kansas growing season was just too short.  He simply wanted the spiky pale leaves to thrive in his garden.  He remembered his first taste of artichoke, the pulpy ends of the leaves of the fruit dipped in mayonnaise and scraped between his teeth, his mother saying, “That’s right.  You’ve got it, Jackie.  Isn’t it delicious?”
            He planted the artichoke in the sunniest spot in his garden.  He watered it, and the thorny crown of leaves burst out of the center.  Those raspy sabers pushed up, then bowed to their own length and weight.
            The year before, he had seen artichokes, in full fruit, at Jefferson’s Monticello, where gardens were planted months before and nights stayed warmer than in Kansas.  Those artichokes had thrived for Jefferson and for all gardeners after him on that land, and the thought had crossed Jack’s mind that the next time he scraped the spiny insides from an artichoke heart, and dipped it in butter, he would no doubt think of it as his own “pursuit of happiness.”
            Jack’s artichoke grew knee high, then waist high.  The leaves fascinated him, up to two feet long, cactus-like in appearance, with serrated edges and thin ends, but soft, like wool.  The fruits, should his bear any, would suddenly appear on stalks between a clump of leaves, budding like flowers, only armored as a reptile, thick-hided and ugly.
            As a child, Jack had often pricked his finger on those tough fruits.  His father had grown up in California, and Jack’s grandmother shipped a box to Kansas, where supermarkets did not carry this favorite treat.  Unpacking was cautious work:  the fruits might have been lotus buds ready to unfold into beauty, but these ends could stab.
            One year, when the artichokes arrived, they opened the box, unwrapped the fruit and found each one to be spotted, rotting, exuding a musky stink none of them wanted to smell.  Jack’s grandmother arrived the next week and asked after her shipment.  She’d been looking forward to an artichoke.  “They were the hit of the party,” said Jack’s mother.  She described a gathering of people who had never tasted artichoke before.  “I stuffed garlic cloves between the leaves.  I baked some with cheese melting into the hearts.  We had some with mayonnaise, like you taught us.”
            Jack’s grandmother raised her eyebrows.  “Good,” she said finally.  “I have to admit I bought them on sale.  I wondered if they’d make it out before they spoiled.”
            Jack’s mother smiled.  “They did spoil.  I’m sorry,” she said, “I was trying to spare your feelings.”
            His grandmother nodded.  “My truth about the sale, yours about the result. We’ll call it even.”
            All summer, Jack’s artichoke grew, the largest plant in his garden.  No stalks urged themselves from between the leaves, just one small bud, seemingly dormant, in the middle center of that profusion of green.  Jack didn’t care.  Unlike when he was growing up, artichokes were available, and affordable, at the grocery.  He was doing more than growing artichokes.  His California grandmother had died years before.  His father, too.  And just the season before, his mother.
            He waited for that first frost, his artichoke unprotected.  The plant shimmered one morning like a many-faceted jewel in the morning sun.  Next day it was grey string.
            His mother had spent her last days in Hospice Care, ready to die.  For a week, Jack and his brothers and sister had fed her the smallest bites of all her favorite foods:  shrimp, lobster, avocado, lemon custard.  And artichoke smothered in mayonnaise.  Then she refused food.  Then drink.  Her last breath was peaceful.











Artichoke symbol


Winter onion

Rose etched in tombstone

Dead potted plant


Willow tree


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