15 January 2001

Cutting an onion as I made dinner the other night, I couldn't help think about Grandma, and her mild obsession with Vidalia onions.

It may have been a secret she shared only with me - I was never really sure, and could never really ask. Since on my visits we'd usually go shopping for food, I had a chance to see her in the process of picking out the things that she thought about serving, the fruits and vegetables whose quality she'd wonder about aloud (and usually negatively). It was always a battle for her, I think, having come from a small German town, and then having moved to big city Berlin - which still has its open farmer's markets, as it must have back then - all the way, and all those years later, to Buffalo. Having to adjust to the US, with its continually modernizing agrarian economy, its large supermarkets, and then the few small grocers, none of which were ever located near each other. Or so it was in the 1980s and 1990s at least.

Somehow, Grandma always returned to the subject of Vidalia onions in the course of shopping. I think she worried that she could never impress upon me heavily enough not just the beauty of onions, but the particular magic of the Vidalia. "So sweet," she'd say, "you can eat it raw, like an apple." I never let her live with that comment either, asking how much money they paid her to advertise the bulbs. But she always reminded me that a real Vidalia shouldn't make you cry when you cut it, and that you should only feel the gasses when you start heating it up - and even then, it should only be for a few seconds.

Normally, when I go shopping, I buy white onions. I can't help it, I like their bite. Onions are good for digestion, and the white ones have that special kick, cleaner and crisper than regular yellow onions. They're strong, and you have to be strong in the kitchen to deal with them; cut them quick and get them out of your face, or you'll be all tears.

But I bought a Vidalia the other day, not really knowing why. I came home, and I started to prepare my rice and beans, and I stood at the counter, and I looked at the onion with its little, official "Vidalia from Spain" label, and proceeded to cut it up, as I thought of Grandma. Small, thin strips, to sauté with olive oil and cumin, left still crunchy, which is more than Grandma ever did, but it didn't seem to matter that it was a Vidalia onion. I cried anyway.

Making grand statements about death is a risky business, so I'll leave the clichés to those more inclined to them. It is now weeks past Grandma's Yahrzeit, a little more than thirteen months since she died. Every now and then, I feel as though I've begun to understand what it means not to have her here, and then something comes along, as complex and layered as an onion, to remind me that I am still not reconciled with the idea. I can only accept it, and continue to hope that I'll maintain her memory with the same freshness and sweetness as the Vidalias she taught me to love.

Copyright 2001, by A.D. Freudenheim - No re-publication without permission, but you may link to this page as desired. You are visiting