the neighbor

“She’s a pro at making really good Kimchee,” Mom had said.  “Because she’s from the countryside of Korea”.

The middle-aged lady is one of our next door neighbors.  Her husband runs his own business and is the family’s breadwinner.  Not sure if his wife helps him out at his business as well, but she has stated to us more than once while standing on our doorstep, that he doesn’t seem to “be bringing home any money”.  All I knew was, that she was quite an avid golfer, due to appearing in the local Korean newspaper a number of times with her golfing buddies.

The last time her husband was on our doorstep, I was surprised that he had spoken to me as much as he did.  I always thought he would be a very quiet person.  But to the contrary, that day.  All I did was ask him if it was true that he had used to own the grocery store down the street before.  He said that they did.  But that they had sold it because running a store business “was no fun”.

Although that store is not that big size-wise, it’s one of the busiest grocery stores around our area.  One reason that’s obvious to anyone going inside there, is because there are always 3 cashiers working their registers at the counter together.  Three.  Considering the grocery store is the size of a regular Mom-and-Pop store, that’s a pretty big deal.  I feel like I’m walking into a mini-Kmart whenever I go there to check out their ice cream selection for the Pops.  The store has an ice cream freezer that holds all kinds of different Korean ice creams.

The neighbor’s husband told me about how he had earned so much money recently, that he would give his wife money to go to Korea whenever they had an argument.  He would just give her some money to go shopping with, and then she would go, he said.  “Had gone a total of 15 times just last year”, he said.  “Wow.  That’s a lot,” I had answered.

One of the things that the fam and I grow the most of in our garden is chives.  It’s a vegetable that’s vital to many Korean dishes, such as in Chapchae Noodles and all kinds of Kimchee.  Whenever we harvest a good amount of them to sell, it takes all of us about 3 hours to prepare them.  First, we cut them from the ground around our house and throw them into baskets.  Then we pull out any brownish ends, straighten the strands together, and then wash them.  Finally, we rubber band them together to be the same-sized bundle width.

Considering that we usually harvest our chives after we’ve come home from a hard day’s work at our fam business, we’re like whooped tired to death by evening.  Sometimes we sell them that afternoon, if one of us has the energy to make the drive.  But if not, then we deliver them the following morning.  They can stay fresh for about 4 days, and usually sells out within 3 days’ time.

Because I knew that our neighbor made really good Kimchee at her home, I had pretty much guessed that she was gonna come over to ask us for some chives someday.  And sure enough, she had knocked on our door to ask us for some.

When I had opened up our front door and had heard her request for some to me, I can’t deny that I was unfortunately, very annoyed to hear it.  Reason #1 was because I was very tired.  I had just come home from working at our family business that morning, which begins early between the hours of 1:00 – 4:00 am, depending on how many morning orders we have to make.  So once we get home, we just want to hurry up and finally eat something, then knock out to sleep.  Sometimes we don’t even make it to our beds and just end up sleeping on the livingroom floor, because we’re that tired.

So when I had heard that neighbor’s request to me at our doorstep, my head immediately did a swirl.  My headache had come back and I just stood there blinking at her, trying to keep my eyes open.  Sure, she didn’t know me that well, but I couldn’t imagine how she couldn’t know how tired I was, the way I most definitely had looked so haggard.

But I guessed she probably didn’t give a hoot whether I was tired or not, since all she was concerned about was in receiving from me a good-sized bundle of free chives from our garden, which she for sure expected for me to give to her, considering that it had to be a very “neighborly thing” for me to do for her – when she wanted it, which was now.

Because my mind just could not think at all because of how tired I was at that moment, I could not think of an excuse to give to her.  I was certain that my explaining how tired I was, wasn’t gonna cut it for her.  She didn’t appear to want to receive a “come back later” answer.  So I just took a deep breath, tried to stay standing up, as I mumbled to her to wait, as I got a pair of scissors from inside.

As usual, it was so hot and sunny outside.  But even hotter and sunnier at that moment, because it had just rained.  So those chives outside our house grounds outside would all be sorta soil-splattered from the rain.  I grabbed a sun hat and a basket.  Too in a hurry to get it over with to look for a pair of gloves.

As we walked to one section of the garden, I explained to her that our chives were still young and short because we had just recently harvested them.  She didn’t give a hoot and just followed me in silence.

I looked for the chives that had the thickest stems.  Those are the ones that are most grown and are ready to be cut from the ground.  The thin ones are supposed to have more vitamins in ’em and are tastier to eat, but it’s the thick ones that are easier to cook with.  They’re absolutely grand in Vietnamese style noodles, lemme tell ya.

As I snipped the somewhat soil-muddy chives from the ground with my scissors, the neighbor said to me, “Why should I go buy chives at the grocery store, when I can just get them from you guys, right?”

I sighed a “humph” to myself.  Geez, lady.  Isn’t that something someone would say to themselves or to their own families, and not out loud?

As she impatiently stood over me waiting, she said, “I should have brought my own scissors.”  Wow.  Now, she wants to help herself to snipping away at our garden too. 

By the time I was too weary to snip anymore for her because I couldn’t even keep my eyes open any longer from being so hungry and sleepy, I handed to her the amount that I had cut, and said to her, “That’s enough, right?”, while giving her a I-dare-you-to-ask-me-for-more-Lady look.

As she slowly, unhappily accepted from me the not-enough-for-her bundle of free chives, I said to her, “You know, you should just grow your own.”

“I did, but there were so many fire ants, that they wouldn’t grow,” she answered me.

“Yeah, we had the same problem the first time we had tried to grow them.  But we continued to try.  What you do is, you try growing them in those styrofoam containers that grocery stores will give to you for free, since they’re always throwing them away.  Then you can transplant them into the ground later,” I said.

After she left, I was certain that she would probably come back to ask Mom for some of our chives (from their roots) so that she could be able to grow them herself, if she ever got styrofoam containers.

The thing about chives is that they’re not easy to pull outta the ground. Their roots really cling to the ground.  So you’re like scraping the dirt real deep (and the dirt beneath can be sorta desert-y dry) and have to yank ’em out like crazy, whenever you’re trying to pull them out by their roots in order to transplant them elsewhere.

Knowing that they’re so tough to pull outta the ground, I warned Mom about that neighbor, and of how she was probably gonna come by to ask Mom for some.  But months went by, and that neighbor didn’t come by to ask.  I wondered if I had guessed incorrectly.

Then last year, I was gone from our home for several months on temporary duty.  When I came back, I saw that there were 2 styrofoam containers tilted along the walkway of that neighbor’s front porch. There were chives growing inside of them.

I asked Mom if she had given them to her.  Mom said that while I wasn’t here, that neighbor had come by to ask her for some to plant.  I asked her if she had also asked (nicely demanded) for potting soil from her also.  Because I wouldn’t pass it by that neighbor to also ask us for some potting soil also to plant them with, knowing that we always have a couple (sometimes up to 10 sacks) of potting soil sacks outside our front yard.  “No, she just asked for some chives to plant”, Mom said.

Although it was just “some chives”, I felt sorry that Mom had to dig the ground and battle the dirt to pull out several for that neighbor to have. Most likely that neighbor had stood over Mom (like she had stood over me), as she waited to receive an “enough amount” from her.  I wondered if she had brought her own digging tool (like she had wanted to bring her own scissors) to “help” Mom dig them out also.

“Love your neighbor…” (Mark 12:31).  Aah, such a tough commandment.  I pray for God to help me to heed it.

 

 

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