It was the onions. The blasted onions. Everything up until I started watering the onions was manageable. I had kept my emotions relatively in check. Then as I started to water the onions the memories flooded back and I started to cry.
There was a glass of water on the table at tea time in the Summer. We’d invariably have fresh salad for tea. Home cooked ham, tomatoes, lettuce, a slice of homemade brown soda bread, but not cucumbers. Grandad didn’t particularly like cucumbers. In the glass on the table would be fresh baby onions or giant scallions, peeled but still in one piece. Eye-wateringly peppery in taste. Grandad used to eat them with relish, sometimes dipping them into a spoon of mayonnaise, but they were always part of the tea time menu.
He grew them in the back garden, in a sunny area beside the patio. The garden was on a slope and the patio was bounded by little walls which he built himself with love and pride. When we were small he used to grab an old piece of gutter from the shed, lean it on the patio walls, and we’d have dinky car races down the self-made chutes. Always being mindful of the beautiful flowers (and onions) that were growing in his wonderful garden.
People always ask me where I got my love of growing food from. Grandad was a huge influence on me. He did get to visit the allotment once; he pronounced it lovely. This was high praise indeed. I know that he loved the pork from the pigs that we rear, and said that it was how pork used to taste when he was growing up. That made me very happy to hear it.
Last night on the way home from his funeral, I realised that we had neglected to water at the allotment, so in our finery we traipsed up the path and turned on the tap. I had busied myself the previous few days by helping out with the arrangements. When I got the allotment there was no more opportunities to hide from the reality that he was gone; there was just me and those darn onions.
James Pearse Shortall, 1916-2017, aged 100, lived life to the full, and we have celebrated him over the past few days. I’ll be reminded of him everytime I step onto the plot.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.