When you cut open an onion, time changes. The scent of an onion mines deep memories of scent-laden kitchens, pots stirred by patient hands, the clink of silver on china set by a smoldering fire. Memories yield one by one to ever older images of places and times stored in memory, layered like the onion on the cutting board. Foods prepared long ago are real again, brought to mind by the fragrance this onion today, the onion bubbling softly in our heavy black pan.
I remember other hands stirring other pots long ago, the way the one hand held the long spoon, and the way the other hand tipped the pot up just a little bit. I remember the whisking sound of a fork in a large thick ceramic bowl holding a half dozen yellow foaming eggs and bright light on linoleum floor, cast through a nine-pane window. Sweet peas, just picked, standing in a translucent bud vase with silverine bubbles trembling as if they are holding small secrets.
Onions, minced fine but aromatic as a shout, sing in hot oil and butter, conjuring a sizzling spell, re-awakening even earlier memories of other onions, going far back in time, onion by onion, layer by layer of memory, reaching back perhaps to the first kitchen of my most ancient grandmother who threw a freshly cut onion into her black pan while she learned and remembered for us who came after her.
The onion there in my glistening dark pan is yellow-golden, softening, tender, mellow and sweet. Scent-beckoned memories of slowly simmering onions and patiently stirring hands are as clear and present as my own are now. Cutting the onion called forth a memory, as it does every time. I remembered to stir the pan slowly, heat the food with patience, savor what was before me -- all that was before me, brought back by the echoing shout and pungent aroma of a freshly cut onion.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way