When I was a child in California, my family often went camping. So many images are woven into the memories of those early days, our car pulling a trailer over miles of highways, the scent of pine trees in the campgrounds, the barren, dry hills of southern California. Somewhere in the basic vocabulary lessons of those years, I learned about Gilroy, the Garlic Capital of the World. Perhaps there are other places in the world that grow more or better garlic, but in my heart Gilroy will always be the capital.
On a recent trip to California, after a week of family togetherness and the momentous joy of attending my nephew’s wedding, my mother, my cousin and I took off on a road trip back in time. My parents always loved road trips, and for my 88-year old mother this was a chance to recapture the suspension of time and sense of adventure of those trips. We traveled the same highways and winding roads down the coast of California I remembered as a child. For every beach and town name on road signs my mother had a story to tell, a trip we had taken, a person who had lived there, a place we had camped. We stopped at 3 houses my family had lived in, including the first house my parents owned. I was born around the time they moved in there, and we stayed there 9 years. The names of my sister, brother and myself are still carved into the cement sidewalk outside.
We found the house we had lived in for only 1 ½ years, where my mom found out she had breast cancer and we decided to move to Portugal, both events changing our lives forever. We stayed at a lodge in Big Sur where my cousin and I had camped with our families, the redwoods and scented air transporting us all to past camping adventures. My dad would have loved it all.
One of our first stops, before heading west to the coast was at the Garlic Shoppe in Gilroy, right off the freeway among miles of dry, flat fields of garlic. There we tasted garlic ice cream, which was surprisingly delicious despite repeating on us over the next several miles. I also bought a braided rope of 10 plump and pungent bulbs of garlic that accompanied me all the way back to Boston.
I separated two of those bulbs into about 30 cloves, and on an unusually warm October day I tucked them into the rich dirt of my garden, marking the rows with sticks. Infused and enriched as they are with all those good memories, they will hopefully grow big and strong by next summer.