This is a new book from my dear friend, Jan Groft, award winning author. Her writing is deeply spiritual, reflecting on faith, grief and family moments…
Excerpt from Artichokes & City Chicken: Reflections on Faith, Grief, and My Mother’s Italian Cooking
Not long after I’d mastered cursive writing and the basics of spelling in elementary school, I began writing poetry. Some of the earliest poems I wrote were gifts to my dad, a tenacious first-generation Italian-American who had a big heart. I can still see his Chevy Impala swinging into our driveway at Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, packed with kids from St. Christopher’s Orphanage coming to share the holidays with us.
These early endeavors at writing were Christmas gifts for Dad, sometimes two or three pages long, a dozen or more stanzas. They were attempts at humor, sometimes accompanied by a gift like a cord to hold Dad’s reading glassesaround his neck, since they never seemed to be where he was when he needed them.
One poem I wrote addressed the many expenses generated, in part, by my needs the preceding year: orthodontics, new glasses, the family vacation we had taken to Florida. The poem purported to rejuvenate his cash flow by providing a “money seed,” which was actually some kind of nut in a shell that I’d dug out of the Thanksgiving nut bowl. According to the poem, all Dad had to do was plant the seed, and a tree would spring up with dollar bills dangling from its branches.
On Christmas morning, I could hardly wait for him to open my gift. On went his glasses, and as he read my poem aloud, he would laugh, or a tear would come to his eye.
At the time, I had no clue that this sequence of events was nurturing a passion within me for writing. In fact, years went by without a thought of these early attempts as I embarked upon a career involving various forms of the craft, including advertising, articles, essays, and books.
After Dad died, a large cardboard box of his, tied with brown string, made its way to the basement of my home. When it first arrived, I opened it and discovered hundreds of cards given to him through the years by his daughters and grandchildren. It took me off guard to learn that he, a staunch businessman, had saved all these sentiments— from Hallmark to handmade. But then again, it made sense: Family meant everything to him. Overwhelmed by grief, I closed the box and stored it.
A year or so later, I came upon the box again and decided to reopen it. There, among the keepsakes, were the poems I’d written decades before, each in my youthful handwriting:the one about the eyeglasses cord, the one about the money seed, even the money seed itself, displayed on a yellowing piece of cotton in a small white box.
The words on one of the cards were penned in turquoise ink, their rhymes adolescent. Its construction paper was worn, red fading to pink, brittle, close to crumbling. Gingerly, I flipped it over. On the back of the card, in my father’s handwriting, was this note: “Christmas 1962 from my Jan. My best Christmas gift. Dad.”
Like the box piled with cards, my heart grew full. His scribbling, half a century old now, was new to me. Most likely, I was the first to read it. Suddenly the loss of this man and his relentless encouragement cut so deeply, it was as though he’d just died when, in fact, it had been years since the leukemia robbed us of him. Tears dampened the paper, darkening the fading—my Jan, my best Christmas gift—and then it dawned on me: This is why I am a writer. The discovery, this sudden understanding that my father had nurtured the spark in me, felt God-breathed. What an amazing gift of grace.