Wednesday, August 29, 2012

red cotton

There is a small group of fledgling writers that meet twice a month at the Bosler Library in Carlisle.  They sit around two rectangular plastic tables that are pushed together so they might listen to and tell the stories that need to be shared.  A topic is given by our ever encouraging facilitator who insists that her selections are in no way mandatory. Nonetheless, this is a willing group that trusts in her gentle guidance.

One of our assignments was to write a story that ended with the following sentence:
I learned that demons will welcome you with open arms just as love does.  This topic left me stumped until I came across an article in MaryJane's Farm which gave me the inspiration I needed.   My story is a work of fiction; however, many of the circumstances of this piece were complied from various articles and news stories that I came across in my research.  

There is a different feeling that's experienced when one shares a story face to face with a group. Sensing the watchful eyes, hearing the sounds of encouragement- the uh-hums, oohs, and ohs-, or even listening to the respectful silence, added an additional texture to the writing process that is impossible to achieve with a blog.  One of my favorite theatre directors has always told her audiences, before starting the show, that they are a key part to live theatre.  Reading this piece was like going live.  And my heart confirmed this as it began racing a hundred miles an hour just as it usually does when I speak in front of others.  

So with that, I'd like to share with you "Red Cotton" and as always, I'd love to hear from you, so please feel free to share your thoughts and comments about the story.  

                                                                    Red Cotton

The quiet whispers stung my ears.  It was late in the afternoon and I was tired after a long day of greetings and condolences.  Family members and friends had arrived earlier in the week from their small villages to pay their respects to my family, here in Vidarha, India. But the fear and concern on their faces were palpable.

Last week, I had found my husband, Rahul, lying face up in our cotton field, dead.  He'd swallowed the insecticide that was meant to protect our crops, leaving me alone to provide for our thirteen-year-old daughters, Amala and Aditi.  Leaving me alone, to raise our family out of this tremendous pit of debt.  His suicide was not the first in our village, as many other farmers had experienced the same plight, and it wouldn't be the last.

It's remarkable how quickly our fortunes had changed.  We'd been doing quite well for ourselves, actually.  Two years ago, the girls had been able to attend school; we had a cow whose milk provided ample cheese, yogurt, and ghee, as well as plenty of urine and pats that furnished a natural fertilizer for the cotton crops.  We'd raised our cotton as my father had raised his and as his father before him.  The seeds were always collected and saved in December after the harvest and then carefully planted in April of the following year.  We were a humble farming family; nevertheless, we had what we needed: food on our plates, clothes on our backs, a shelter over our heads and an education for our girls.

And then the ads began to appear on TV.  Famous celebrities and even our own religious leaders told us about the miracle seeds that could double our cotton crops and reduce our cultivation costs if we simply placed our thumbprint on the appropriate line of the contract. A contract!  The seeds belonged to the American company, Monsanto, therefore official procedures had to be followed and I imagine, the Americans must have laughed at our simple ways of doing business.  Regardless, we were told that we could earn millions of rupees, and Rahul couldn't stop thinking about the promises.

Our first crop from the miracle seeds brought devastating results.  I could see the panic in Rahul's eyes when he explained that the plants were under stress.  To his horror, the new seeds were very thirsty and needed twice the amount of water as last year's crop.  And other pests, such as the pink bollworm, had begun to attack the cotton balls.  Our only hope of salvaging the crop was to purchase the special insecticide provided at the market.  But the price of the magic seeds had already been considerably higher than what we were used to paying in prior years, and so this year, a loan from the State Bank of India had been required.  Rahul sold our only cow in order to obtain the cash he needed for the pesticide. The little amount left over was set aside to repay the loan.

But Rahul's efforts were not enough.  By June, Rahul knew that only one third of our acre of cotton could be harvested.  The remaining plants had succumbed to the voracious appetite of the pink bollworm and would need to be burned.

An outsider might wonder why my husband would plant the magic seeds the following year, after experiencing such a crippling loss.  The answer is simple, really.  Traditionally, an Indian farmer can recover from a failed crop as seeds from prior years are saved during the harvesting and used the following spring.  But since we had used the magic seeds, which do not reproduce, my husband was forced to purchase additional seed the following year. Because the magic seeds had not grown well on our farm, Rahul was determined to buy the traditional seed he usually acquired from the market, at a considerably lower price. However, Rahul quickly learned that the traditional cotton seed had been discarded from the food bank and only the magic seeds were available for purchase at the market.  All of our farming neighbors found themselves in the same situation as well.

This position left my husband with only one option- to purchase the magic seeds.  Except this time, when Rahul went to the bank to acquire an additional loan, he was denied.  After hearing from other farmers at the market that a money lender could help us with funding for the seed and pesticide, Rahul had searched my fearful face for understanding.

"This year will be different," he reassured me.  "If we earnestly pray for help this time, Kamya, our prayers will be heard."  It was so difficult for Rahul to believe that the TV commercials had intentionally misled us about the magic seeds.

"Perhaps we haven't prayed hard enough for Lakshimi's favor," he said.  "The failed crop was only a fluke.  You saw him, Guru Abhay, standing with open arms, holding the magic seeds on TV.  He surely knows what's best for our family,"  Rahul implored.  We would try harder, I'd reassured him as he grasped my hands and inhaled long and slow.

In early May, the heavy yoke was strapped to my shoulders and our daughters, carrying the burden of their father's anxiety, offered their watchful eyes and careful hands, as Rahul planted the magic seeds.  Each day we offered up our devotions to Lakshimi, our divine Goddess, and held tightly to our faith.  And each day, with the rising sun, our hopes melted into a pool of fear as the drought that held the land refused to relinquish its grip.  For one hundred and thirty days not a single drop was tendered.  Not one precious drop.

Without rain, the cotton couldn't grow.  And Rahul's spirit seemed to die as quickly as the withered plants.  The gravity of a second failed crop with its accompanying consequences was too much for Rahul to bear.  Already, he'd been advised in the village to sell our daughters to the landlords.  The income would keep the money lenders away for at least a few months, anyway.  But Rahul wouldn't hear of it.

He had risen to the plinkity, plink of the falling rain resounding on the tin roof.  Amala and Aditi were preparing the dosa, the scent of flour and fenugreek, mixed with the mango and cardamom of the cooking chutney over the crackling fire filled the room.  After finishing his breakfast and kissing me and the girls good morning, he set off to the fields, just as he had done every day of our married life, and on this day, I learned that demons will welcome you with open arms just as love does.

for more information about this topic, check out:

Sunday, August 26, 2012

zucchini time

Mr. Hero and I have had a vegetable garden most of the nineteen years we've been married, and yet the prolific zucchini has not once made its way into any of them.  Let me explain:

Years ago, while living out West, a friend gave us fair warning that we should lock our car doors before heading into church during the summertime- especially when it was zucchini season.  Laughing at the confused look on our faces, she explained that if we didn't do so, we'd most likely find several large bags of zucchinis waiting for us on the back seat after the service.  Mr. Hero loved the idea that people could be so generous and one Sunday, before giving his speech over the pulpit, he announced with a big grin on his face that we were intentionally leaving all of the doors to our car unlocked.  So feel free, he'd said.
I don't know why they never took him up on the offer, but that hasn't always been our experience.

Mr. Ninja and the Maryland zucchini

While visiting our Maryland family down south this summer, we were gifted with a monstrous zucchini that was plucked from Uncle Butch's garden.  After sensing our hesitation in accepting such a prize, he simply insisted and then explained that they really didn't do much with the zucchinis anymore.  He and his wife, Becky, have four boys of their own and certainly know how important it is to keep the pantry and refrigerator well stocked; however, only two of their sons remain at home nowadays so growing a garden has in recent years become more of a hobby than anything else.  I imagine we'll run into the same dilemma in say nine or ten years from now.  Nope... don't want to think about it- but I digress.

Traditionally, our zucchini preserving of choice has been the freezer method.  It's really quite simple.  The zucchini gets chopped up into big chunks that are small enough to fit through the feed tube of the  food processor and then shredded by the shredding disc.  Once all of the zucchini is grated, the zucchini will get put into quart size freezer bags and tossed into the freezer.  That's it.  The happy result is that Mr. Hero will have zucchini all winter long to throw into soups and sauces, or baked into muffins and breads.

However, the Maryland zucchini was not going to wind up in the freezer this time.  The boys had had a craving for zucchini bread and I was curious to see just how many loaves this bad boy could make.
Ok.  So I lied.  After the eighth loaf came out of the oven, only one of them was used to satisfy their zucchini bread craving while the rest was meant for the freezer, after all.

Here is a recipe that I adapted from if you're looking for a way to manage your own bumper crop- or just want to satisfy a sweet tooth. The breads freeze up well, too. So have at it- you've got nothing to lose but a big bag of zucchini.


Mom's Zucchini Bread

3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3 tsp ground cinnamon
3 eggs
3/4 cup oil
2 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup applesauce
3 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped nuts


Grease and flour two 8x4 inch pans.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).  Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.  Beat eggs, oil, applesauce, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl.  Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat well.  Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined.  Pour batter into prepared pans.
Bake for 40-60 minutes, or until tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes.  Remove bread from pan and completely cool.

Friday, August 10, 2012

pickling instructions

Plop garlic, dill, and peppercorns into pretty pints
         containing kirby cucumbers cut and quartered.
Pour boiling brine to the brims and
         carefully cover with lids and rings.
Sealed shut with sticky steam,
         the processor will putter
         the lids will pop, pop.
                            Pop, pop, pop.
Peter's pickles.

Monday, August 6, 2012

love and marriage

"One advantage of marriage is that, when you fall out of love with him, or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until you fall in again."
                                                                                    - Judith Viorst

We didn't hear their story until after we had made the seven hour drive up north following highway 81. We were relaxing on Uncle Jim and Brad's patio after we'd spent the evening getting to know Canadian family and friends that had flown into town for the wedding. Brad had served up a traditional Newfoundland dish of Fish and Brewis  (which I swear is the best tasting fish I've ever experienced), the kerosene lamps were flickering on the table, creating a soft glow, as a summer breeze hinted of the light rain that had fallen earlier that afternoon- a welcomed relief from the ongoing drought that had hit Ottawa for several weeks.

Uncle Jim and Brad had initially met online.  Brad is a native Newfoundlander, a small detail that had peeked Jim's interest because of the time he'd spent on the island years ago.  He asked Brad if he might be able to phone him-which he did for three months, until they finally agreed to meet.  As chance would have it, there was an instant connection and soon they were inseparable.  For two years, they have been partners in life; supporting each other through some of their most difficult heartaches, loving each other, and building a home.  

As residents of Canada, this couple has the right to marry and are entitled to all of the benefits marriage will bring to their union.  The minister, a longtime friend of the family, read passages from Ecclesiastes 3 and refused to accept payment for the ceremony.  Vows were said, rings exchanged, and the pronouncement that they were declared "husbands" was sealed with a kiss. The marriage certificates were signed.

Three years ago, while vacationing in California with my father, siblings, nieces and nephews, the topic of same sex marriage presented itself.  I was a practicing Mormon at the time and had very strong views about the traditional family and marriage under the eyes of God.  I took care in how I chose the words I used to express my views in front of my family and my nieces, in particular.  And then my niece, who was fourteen at the time, spoke up and contradicted me.  Something I had said just didn't sit right with her and she stated very simply her belief that "you love who you love".  

It wasn't until after I had left Mormonism and had the time to evaluate my own position on this topic- instead of just following the teachings of my leaders, after I had viewed movies such as Milk, 8: The Mormon Proposition , and Brokeback Mountain , and after I had met several wonderful individuals who consider themselves gay- as well as those who refuse to label themselves at all, did my thinking on the matter finally connect with my heart and gut which told me that my niece was right. That you simply love who you love.  

The day before the wedding, Jim and I were having a little chat about the vows he'd be making on his wedding day. He explained to me that marriage to him meant forever.  And that by declaring his vows to his sweetheart, in front of his closest family and friends, he'd be receiving a type of sustaining support of their union- an invisible contract so to speak, with everyone present that day.  He needed this, hoped for it, and with smiles, hugs, and tears of joy, he received it.  They both did.

Thank God for Canada and the wisdom of the next generation.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Every year, the artist returns to this little Ottawan shore to rebuild what Mother Nature disassembles over the wintertime with her rain, wind, sleet, and snow.  It's as if both are involved in a game that neither one cares to lose; drawing spectators to the match- free of charge- who with hushed lips and wide-opened eyes, can't help but feel a sense of wonder and reverence for the effort.