Tuscany, 1986

Olive groves between Florence and Pisa

I love olives, and I’ve worked my way to the bottom of many a martini, to that prize nestling in the perfect v shape, in the only style of glass appropriate to that particular refreshment. I like them whole or pitted, gin-soaked or not, with or without pimento stuffing, seldom with blue cheese or almond stuffing and never, ever that in a martini. I love chocolate, too, but a Chocolate Martini is an abomination. In today’s world of infinite options, one must maintain some standards. Somewhere in the ancestry of every urban dweller is someone who was the bridge from country to city. For me, that was my parents. They grew up in rural 20’s, 30’s and 40’s America, which was much more remote than rural America today, and were tempered by the Great Depression and World War. Just the communication technologies alone blur the lines between those regions now, but Mom’s and Dad’s families would only listen to the radio for a carefully calculated amount of time, to conserve the batteries. Neither Mom nor Dad finished school, Dad (the oldest son of 7 kids) dropping out in the 7th grade to help work the farm, and Mom (middle child of 8) quitting in the 10th to help take care of her siblings. So the table I sat at growing up offered a basic meat and potatoes diet; nothing exotic like olives or stinky cheeses (I love those also, the stinkier the better), but they knew where every food item came from, the time and labor it took to produce it, and what (sometimes bloody) process it went through in becoming our meal. I didn’t and I don’t, except in the most general way. If there is an apocalypse and I survive the initial impact, I will almost certainly poison myself or starve to death because of that gap in my education. So maybe it’s understandable that when we passed the first olive grove I had ever seen, and with fruit on the trees, I could not resist plucking one and popping it into my mouth to taste a really fresh olive (I understand now that may be oxymoronic). I was lucky to not chip a tooth; it was hard as stone. It may be a character flaw that even all these years later I don’t know how olives get from that to delicious, but I’m grateful that when I go to the supermarket to harvest my olives, someone does know how to prep them for me.

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