Ellen: It’s early morning. I just walked the dog, took the trash to the bin, came back, lit a stick of incense and am reveling in the scent of the apartment…not so much the fragrance wafting to the ceiling, but the absence of trash. I’m sure no one’s garbage smells delightful, but in my case, the prime offender was the discarded flower-of-the-week. Fresh flowers are cheap and long-lasting here, so I sometimes indulge in a few. I erred in the last purchase, though: a fat, cherubic flowering kale. I knew vaguely that kale is ornamental cabbage. What I wasn’t counting on was it – well, smelling like a cabbage!
Bill adored boiled cabbage. Stuffed cabbage. Any cabbage. My reaction to Cabbage Nights reminded me of how Ruth and I behaved on the thankfully few occasions Mother decided to go as ethnic as she ever dared in the kitchen and put together a Chef Boy-R-Dee Pizza Pie. What was it that passed for cheese in those kits? Whatever it was sent the two of us into shrieking, nose-holding retreat to our rooms. I can remember on at least one occasion huddling in Ruth’s room with towels stuffed under the door. My tastes, like my waist, have expanded over the years, but will never include appreciation of cruciferous vegetables. While I let Bill’s cabbage dinners pass without the retching, gagging noises Ruth and I made on the pizza pie occasions, I’m sure my expression was much the same. I always had to grumble that he made the place smell like a tenement. He’d smirk and attack his slimy dinner with double the pleasure.
Cabbage is king here. It’s almost heresy to admit you don’t like it. But I don’t, I never will, and now I’ll be as certain to turn it down at the flower stands as at the dinner table.
Tomorrow our mother would have turned 83. It still sometimes amazes me that Mother, of all people, died so comparatively early. I was thinking about her a week ago today, All Souls’ Day, one of Poland’s national holidays…and how at her funeral almost ten years ago, the officiating minister opened with some spiel about it being not a gathering to mark her death, but a celebration of her life. Even then, it was such a hackneyed phrase, I mentally cringed. All Souls’ Day elevated this cliché. What a brilliant spectacle. Every grave in every cemetery, every monument, was banked with flowers and glowing with candles. Cemeteries were thronged with people throughout the day and well into the night. Although there were surely newly bereaved and anguished mourners among the crowds, it was largely a holiday atmosphere. People exchanged hearty greetings, young couples pushed strollers and sometimes towed well-behaved canines along. Smiles and chatter. There was respect for the dead, but this was evident in shared memories, the extravagant flowers and memorial candles. Lives celebrated, not marked with black, glum silences, or doleful bells. At midnight my friends and I wandered the largest cemetery in Gdansk. We reached a valley where the vivid lights of candles for the dead stretched for miles to our left – and the lights of the living, Gdansk’s skyline, pulsed to our right.
I’d like to be remembered in this way. Some snickering anecdotes about me. A couple of candles in gaudy lanterns. Flowers, too. Just please, no ornamental cabbage!
Copyright 2008 by Ellen Dlott
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes– and ships– and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages– and kings–as long as Ellen’s not around!