Oleander on the Taste of Winter Onions
Folks, Claude Anderson and I were sitting in the Here, Kansas, Co-op, talking about the prospect of the next winter wheat crop. We can already see the skim of green on the fields, and, like the local farmers, we have our hopes.
You never know who might wander into a place like Here, Kansas.
This particular Saturday it was John Peet, the grandson of Fred and Violet Peet. He used to spend a couple of weeks each summer at the Peet place, back when he was a boy. Of course Fred died over 20 years ago. Violet moved to town, then spent her last seven years in a nursing home after her breast cancer. She died earlier this Fall.
John asked for a cup of coffee, sat down, and began to talk. He remembered that hottest room of the old Peet farmhouse, the southwest bedroom, attic ceiling slanting in the heat. He’d headed out there, he said, to see the view from that window one last time. He anticipated driving slow, crunching gravel, and, when the road curved, he would see the house, white with green trim, the front partly blocked by the apple and pear trees along the lane. “I was going to pull in, and go to the barn. Do you remember how big it was?” he asked. “My brother, you remember Thomas? We were going to take turns grabbing the rope and swinging.” That boy remembered what it was like to take dizzying swoops down and then swinging back up to a safe landing in the hayloft.
And he wanted to see his grandmother’s garden, which, he thought, might still be someone’s garden, winter onions green all year round. He wanted to pick one and carry that boyhood taste with him. The asparagus, he thought, would be all lace and red berries. And no doubt the corral would be in use, some horses, maybe a mule. And chickens. He’d hated them, especially the banty rooster that pecked at his Achilles tendon, making him run. “I raise those little roosters for fun,” his Grandma Violet had always said. “To keep boys moving.”
So, John told us, he’d headed deeper into the country outside of Here. He looked forward to seeing his brother Thomas. They’d been together at Violet’s funeral, a small service, the grave soon sodded, the ground no different from all the other graves.
“I got to that curve, the one by No-mile Creek,” John said. “And maybe you already know. But there’s nothing. No house, no barn, no trees, no chicken house or corral. Only my brother’s car, parked in a short space that once was the beginning of the drive.”
Folks, we had to feel for John Peet. Like a lot of places, his grandparents’ farm was bought and everything torn down. Replaced by a flat field of winter wheat, young and green.
“We walked into the field,” said John Peet, “to where the house might have stood. I bent down and picked one small sprout of winter onion. I put it in my mouth. That bitterness is still there.” The boy took another swig of burned coffee, set his cup down, and left Here, Kansas.