Sweet artichokes and bittersweet good-byes

We got ahold of some fresh Watsonville artichokes a couple of weekends ago. We had to drive through snow, rain, fog and wind to get them. But they were worth it.

Artichokes purchased from the grower are sweeter and creamier, without any of the refrigerator bitterness, and something I highly recommend if you ever get the chance. We bought two bags of six, a dozen, enough for three nights for our family of four.

It still feels strange to say family of four, and that reminds me of the reason we were down at the coast. Our sailor son, Patrick, was home on leave from the Navy for a couple of weeks, and we were taking him down to the Bay area to catch his plane to Virginia. He was reassigned from a place that he called "the worst place in the world," Great Lakes, Ill., where he went to boot camp.

For those with sons or daughters in the military, I guess you can relate to what the routine is when they come home to visit.

You are feeling depressed because you haven't seen them in months, then you get the phone call that they'll be coming home. They don't know exactly when, but they give you an approximate date. You ask them what airlines and what airport and they can't tell you because they haven't been given that information. As the date gets closer you ask them again, and they still say they don't know. You start to make plans, and contingent plans, for who will pick them up, where they'll go first, and second, and so on ...

The day nears and you find out they won't know anything more until the day they leave, when they're handed their ticket and have to scramble to have it rerouted. All this lack of information makes you very nervous and stressed out, yet you still excitedly await their arrival. Finally the day comes, he arrives safely (phew!), but you will not see him for a week because he spends three days with his dad and four days at his friend's house. In some ways you're glad because it gives you more time to get the house looking perfect for this kid who never folded clothing in his life or put it away until he went in the service and whose idea of cleaning his room was throwing everything in the closet - and I mean everything.

The big day finally comes and you drive with your other two children down to Sacramento to retrieve your beloved Navy boy. It's non-stop talking the whole way back, in spite of the downpour you are driving through most of the way on the pitch black mountain road, Highway 50. Upon arriving home, he plugs in his laptop and you lose him to video games and the world of chat, but you don't care, because he's home. All week you (or in my case my husband) cook their favorite meals, keep the house picked up more than usual, miss work and school functions, but you don't care. It feels like Christmas all over again.

Then the day comes, and it's time to drive him back so he can get on the plane and go back to his new parents, the Navy. The weather makes the drive longer and more difficult, but you still manage to take him to your favorite restaurant in Santa Cruz. You take your family's picture on the wharf, with the Boardwalk in the background, nevermind it's pouring rain. You drop him off later and give him a big hug, with a lump in your throat. You're thankful you decided to spend a couple nights at the coast, which might make things a little easier.

It's ironic. You drive down with a handsome Navy guy in the car, and drive back with a couple of bags of artichokes.

Not a fair exchange, but somehow the artichokes seemed to extend our family's vacation just a little bit longer. Three days, to be exact.

It already seems like so long ago since we finished those artichokes.

n Jo Rafferty is people editor at The Record-Courier. To reach her, e-mail jrafferty@recordcourier.com or call 782-5121, ext. 210.


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