Sweet Vidalias

”In the multitude of my thoughts within me,
thy comforts delight my soul.” —Psalm 94:19

When I was little, I always looked forward to Friday nights. That was the night we saw Aunt Mary and Uncle Nick at the Star Restaurant on Interstate 94. Nick and Mary weren’t my real aunt and uncle; they were the restaurant’s owners and family friends. Both were born in the Salonika Plain in Greece near the Aegean Sea. They’d come to the United States as young adults and opened their small restaurant near the Interstate. By the time we found them, Nick and Mary were well into middle age. We were regulars at the restaurant, and on those Friday nights, when Mom, Dad, and I sat in our red, vinyl-upholstered booth, Nick and Mary sat with us. They told stories about the “old country,” about how beautiful it was and how hard it was to leave when they moved to America.

Along with the stories, there was always delicious food. At Easter time, Nick and Mary gave us hard-boiled eggs dyed a deep blood red, and they served us succulent roasted lamb. Other times, there were new dishes to try: soupa avgolemono, dolmathes, souvlakia, and the only one I could pronounce, moussaka. Mary was as proud of her cooking as Nick was of always finding the freshest produce. We teased him about it. Not one Friday night went by without a trip downstairs to the cooler. Inside that cold, little room were scores of boxes filled with fruits and vegetables. Nick explained to us where they came from, how they were grown, and why they were fresh.

It was Nick who introduced us to Vidalia onions, the world’s sweetest onion and the state vegetable of Georgia. Nick said that when he discovered Vidalias, it changed the way that Mary cooked. The infamous Star Burger was topped with a thick slice of roasted Vidalia; Mary’s cheese omelet came with a side of Vidalia hash brown potatoes; The Every-Friday-Dinner-Special was tender calf’s liver, slightly pink, smothered in strings of sweet Vidalias. Finding new uses for the onions was Nick’s passion. “These onions, they make you feel good,” he said in broken English as we stood near the cooler. He picked up a large Vidalia onion and studied it adoringly. “Ordinary ones, they make you cry. This one, it brings you comfort.” Nick was right. The Vidalias did bring me comfort, but not until many years later.

In the spring of 1999, Mother was dying. She lay in a hospital bed in a coma. Her illness had been short, and I was reeling from how suddenly our lives had gone from normal to chaos. When I sat at her bedside, I thought of the Friday nights that we’d spent at the Star Restaurant, and I remembered Nick’s passion for Vidalia onions. What an odd memory at such a somber time! That memory led to another. I thought of a special mother-daughter conversation that Mom and I’d had in the kitchen while she was making dinner. She was cooking with Vidalia onions, probably because chopping them didn’t make her cry, but more likely because Nick gave them to us by the bagful. As we’d sat there talking, the kitchen had filled with the warm, comforting scent of roasting Vidalia onions. When I remembered that smell, I was reminded of something else: times when I was little and sick with a fever. Mom would often stop whatever she was doing and come to feel my forehead. If she had been chopping Vidalia onions, there was something special about her touch. The coolness of her gentle hand on my face and the sweet smell of Vidalia onions was comforting. As I sat there at Mom’s bedside remembering, I rested my hand on her forehead. It was the last time that I saw my mother smile. Those unusual memories in my time of need were no accident. God had used them to allow us to connect one last time.

God is the Great Comforter. He finds just the right ways to dry our tears. When I remember my mother’s gentle hands against my feverish forehead, I think of God’s hands. I imagine each person on this earth as a grain of the finest sand in the palms of His hands, yet He never allows us to slip through His fingers. His hands are vast and strong, but always sensitive to our needs. When I imagine the greatness of God, Nick’s words take on a new meaning: “Ordinary ones, they make you cry. This One, it brings you comfort.” There’s nothing ordinary about our Heavenly Father. In every way, and always, He is extraordinary.

Dear Lord: Thank you for comforting me and for always being with me in my times of need.


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