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The Village Idiot

Village Idiot Garlic

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(9/2012) From an online dictionary:

  • Idiot: someone who does not behave in an intelligent or sensible way.
  • Fool: someone who does not behave in an intelligent or sensible way.

"Day after day, alone on a hill,
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know him,
They can see he's just a fool
And he never gives an answer.
But the fool on the hill sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head see the world spinning round."
(credited to LennonĖMcCartney) and recorded in 1967 by The Beatles)

I place the sign alongside the road to amuse passersby. While waiting for the rare customer, or the curious to stop and enquire about garlic, I set up an archery target in the adjacent field, a plastic bag hanging from an arrow stuck in the ground. I string a small childís bow so itís ready when I get tired of reading or watching cars, trucks, vans, tractor-trailers, motorcycles, bicycles, ambulances and joggers pass by. In five Sundays, Iíve had four customers and several long conversations.

Iím kicked back in a folding chair, a big pan of garlic bulbs on my lap, a paring knife in hand and a coffee can for the garlic cloves Iím peeling the wrapper leaves from when the first customer pulls up. "I could smell garlic as I drove by. Whatís so special about what youíre selling?"

I allow it ainít what heíll buy from a supermarket. I know this guy can cook so Iím hesitant to promote my crop. What do I know about cooking with garlic? Iím nobodyís authority on food.

He wants something that will hold up to cooking in heavily seasoned sauces. I recommend the Bogatyr; it can be very hot eaten raw and comes through garlicky when cooked. I also suggest Pskem River because Iíve read that chefs have taken to experimenting with it. He took a bag of both and two weeks later stopped by to tell me the Pskem River has changed the way he thinks and cooks with garlic! (Iím guessing heíll want to swap the Bogatyr for something else. The Pskem isnít nearly as bold as Bogatyr. Maybe the French would suit his needs?)

The second customers are my sister and her husband visiting from Florida. Usually I mail them garlic so I shouldnít count them as my second customers as far as my local set up is concerned. Besides, Iíd have given them garlic but they kept shoving money at me and to get rid of them (so I could go back to shooting arrows toward the plastic bag in the field) I took it. Only I didnít get back to arrow sailing because Luke and Simona showed up and everyone had to explain to me why I had the wrong location and how I should be at the townís farmers market on Fridays, not sitting alone on some side street on Sundays. (They also laughed at me, a lot.)

I patiently explained that I wasnít about selling garlic. No. I was out there each Sunday reading my books, counting people, playing with my camera, sailing arrows at a plastic bag (hoping not to hit it, because hitting the target is the last thing I want to do.) Just as having a bunch of people stopping and buying garlic isnít what Iím about. (GODS! What if I had to make change? Or explain to non-cooks how to use garlic? Or had someone who actually knows gourmet varietal garlic stop by?)

My sister gave me that look and nodded toward my sign. "Well, you are an idiot."

"Emmitsburgís village idiot." I smile back at her.

The family, having performed its duty to correct one of its own, scattered while I set about tearing down my garlic stand, the sun having reached over the building to my back and begun its threat to my precious bulbs. Another Sunday morning of garlic selling completed.

On the 5th Sunday, a pickup truck suddenly brakes and turns into the parking lot. I look up from the Clive Cussler novel Iím trying to finish and wonder if there might be a problem. Maybe the transmission locked up? A woman drops out of the cab and walks over to my table. Hands on hips, she smiles.

"I use a lot of garlic, for health reasons as much as I do because I like cooking with it. What do you have here?" She looks over the dozen or so net bags of bulbs.

I ask what garlic sheís use to (store bought of course) and begin reading from the garlic notes Iíve made concerning the flavors and uses of the various varieties I have. She buys a pound, thanks me and asks how often Iíll be around selling garlic. Sundays, until itís too cool to be sitting outside, or I run out of stock.

Iím walking back across the field as the fourth customer pulls up, doesnít see me and begins to leave. Catching sight of me dawdling (I didnít want to run because that might have given him the impression I wanted to sell something) he got out of his truck to look over the garlic. As expected, he uses garlic in his cooking but only used what he could find in stores. He listened politely to what little I could tell him about the varieties and purchased a couple to total a pound. As he was turning to leave he asked why I was set up on a side street instead of at a farmers market. "Youíd get more people looking at your garlic as theyíd be there to buy food."

I allowed Iíd thought about a farmers market, but I didnít think theyíd let me shoot my bow and people would keep interrupting my reading.

He gave me a puzzled look so I nodded toward my sign. "I am an idiot."

"Ah." He smiled as he backed away from the table.

In the course of Sundays Iíve set up, Iíve counted more than 600 people traveling that bit of road. Thankfully, less than ten have stopped to enquire about garlic. If I make it through the summer and fall at this rate, Iíll have plenty of garlic to dry, or mash and freeze! Iíll get a list made up of garlic varieties Iíd like to acquire someday and may even get around to reading up on how to cook with them. Iíll certainly get a couple more novels read and probably will learn to control myself well enough to occasionally hit the grocery bag set about 55 yards from where I stand launching arrows designed for a 50# draw bow, but sent skyward by a tiny 10# draw toy.

Iíd thought about calling myself a fool, but the dictionary goes on: "a man in the past whose job was to entertain a king, queen, or other important person by making them laugh"

Sounds too much like work to me.

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.