Sometimes a person has to be reminded about gratitude, even a person like me who has a naturally grateful heart.
At first I was happy when our friend Harold called to say he was on his way over to bring us something. Usually at this time of year, his wife, Louise, makes huge batches of mostly chocolate candy that she artfully arranges onto a pretty platter and sends out to folks like me who hardly ever have any sweets in the house, much less bake any themselves. The tray Louise sends out is ostensibly for The Grandchildren, since she knows I might try to pass off steamed broccoli flan as cupcakes to the poor things.
However, the sordid truth is that Buck and I eat them. Not all of them, of course. Not so many that I can’t rearrange the tray so it looks like nothing is missing. But Louise’s tray of dark chocolate fudge, milk chocolate fudge, butterscotch fudge, pralines, chocolate-dipped cherries, white-chocolate pretzels, chocolate peanut clusters, and chocolate-dipped pecans, plus thin waffle cookies and garnished with the most adorable chocolate mice you will ever eat. . . well! You get the idea. Who could resist a teensy-weensy morsel or five?
So, by the time Harold arrived, my mouth was already watering, thinking of the nice afternoon I would spend at my desk with a pot of Lady Grey tea and a little saucer (kind of a variety pack) of chocolates. I peeked through the window, looking for the tell-tale large round tray.
Instead, I saw Harold wrestling one large and three small plastic bags to the door. He was pleased as punch and ready for a Christmas hug. Just-picked collard greens from his garden were inside the big bag. The smaller ones held just dug white turnips, pungent green onions and small Irish potatoes.
On his wait out, Harold turned to say, “Louise got them pecans you sent her yesterday, and she’s got the whole kitchen turned upside down choppin’ them and puttin’ them in some of her candies. She told me if I’d wait an hour, she’d have your tray of sweets ready to go, but if I’m going to hunt this afternoon, I had to come on now with the greens. I’ll get them sweets to you before those Grandchildren are due to come over.”
After Harold left, I found a Hershey’s foil-wrapped chocolate kiss and let it dissolve in my mouth while I started the process of washing, chopping and cooking the greens Harold had brought us. I had hoped to spend the afternoon sitting at my desk, but here I was standing at the sink.
My arthritic hands were already a little sore from addressing Christmas cards and too much time at the computer keyboard. The huge sink-full of big-leaved collard greens loomed large. Each leaf has a large vein down the center. I took out my chef’s knife, freed the vein from each leaf, stacked the halves into a large pile and then chopped them into neat squares.
Gradually, the furrow that had developed in my brow began to dissolve, replaced by the steady beating of a grateful heart, and a gentle chiding from its voice.
Tonight, I’ll cast-iron-skillet bronze the scallops I picked up a couple of days ago at Joe Patti’s and serve them with velvety collard greens, boiled Irish potatoes, buttery turnip roots and crisp green onions.
Harold not only grew and hand-delivered superior nourishment to us today; he gave me something to think about, too — how so often gifts come disguised as work.