I went to the grocery store yesterday. You know, typical Saturday morning of running errands. Stopped at the bank, went into the liquor store for some supplies. Made a stop at our local cannabis dispensary.
Then I went to grab a few groceries for the week. I didn’t need a lot. Mostly milk, juice, veggies and fruits. I was moving slowly through the produce section, caught in the realization that we in New England are definitely “between seasons.” The apples are a little mealy, but the peaches are still as hard as stone. We crave fresh lettuce, but it’s still the hot house, shipped in from the far south variety.
My mouth wanted something interesting. Something that could serve as a bridge between roasted root vegetables and fresh spring salad.
I saw a lovely pile of artichokes. They were arranged artfully, like a pile of happy puppies, sleeping in the sun. They made me think of Italy. Of summer. Of my childhood dinners at Nana’s house.
So I took two. Paul doesn’t like them, so I knew two would be plenty. I put them into my cart and moved on, thinking about how I’d prepare them and what I’d serve with them.
A man stepped up as I was pushing my cart toward the piles of hot house tomatoes. He was very tall, almost seeming to loom over me. At first I was startled.
Then he smiled. The lines that bracketed his mouth were lines of hard work and hard laughter. His eyes were very dark. He shook his head as he looked at me.
“Artichokes!” he said, in a deep, soft voice. “Wow. Artichokes.”
“Yes,” I answered with a smile. “I love them.”
The man leaned on the handle of his carriage. His eyes were shining as he spoke, almost reverently, “I haven’t had an artichoke in at least 30 years. I haven’t even thought about artichokes!”
I smiled. I wasn’t really sure how to respond. I mean, I like artichokes. I make them on a fairly regular basis. I glanced at the piles of tomatoes, wondering what to say next.
“My Nonna used to make them,” the man explained. He reached one big rough hand out and lifted the bristly vegetable from my cart. “She used to stuff them with bread crumbs….”
“…..Sure! and Italian cheese!” I answered.
“And garlic and salt! And she steamed them.”
“For a long time, ” I added.
“Until the leaves pulled out easily.”
We grinned at each other, two old Italian Americans, thinking of our grandmothers and how they cooked and how that food made us feel.
“Wow.” he said again. “Artichokes.” He smiled at me again, right into my eyes and right into my Italian woman’s heart. “Thank you for this lovely memory.”
I felt a tug in my heart. I have no idea who he is, no idea where he lives or what his story is. But he touched me that morning at PriceChopper.
“Well,” I said. “Come over later. I’ll make you an artichoke!”
He laughed and we walked away, he into the bakery, me off to check the tomatoes.
When I got home it occurred to me that I had no idea what that man’s political views might be. I don’t know what he thinks of tariffs or global warming or the Green New Deal. I don’t know if he is afraid of immigrants or if he carries a gun. He might be one of my fellow Bernie folks, or he might have a MAGA hat in his car.
I don’t know.
But what I was thinking was that it doesn’t matter.
We were total strangers who will probably never meet again. But we shared a moment of nostalgia and a moment of joy and a moment of connection. All because we both had grandmothers who liked to make artichokes.