Jan 7, 2007

Broccoli as a Parable

by Liz Adair

Long, long ago, in another age and another place (I was 45 at the time), my mother and I had a small catering business. If any of you have read Lucy Shook's Letters from Afghanistan, you will know that my mother had flair. I, on the other hand, have always been a plodder. However, that is neither here nor there in the telling of this parable.

Our sole client was a nearby refinery--definitely a niche market. We catered executive meals for visiting VIP's, award luncheons and retirement celebrations. We averaged two or three functions a month. I like to think they kept hiring us because we had style, but it might have been because of lack of competition.

We brought place settings of china and stemware, along with requisite numbers of forks and spoons, and set them atop crisp, snowy tablecloths. The exotic menus my mother had served to diplomats in Afghanistan were now laid out dramatically for engineers, plant operators, and middle managers, and she took the same care to dress the table, making sure that we always had fresh flowers.

I must explain that this was at the end of my Mother Earth period, as I was segueing into my Business Mogul period--when sporadic catering morphed into a full-time specialty bakery. That's another story, but it does explain why I had a garden.

I raised vegetables, but Mother had flowers, because she had flair. It served us well, as we were always able to decorate our tables out of her flower beds. She had a particularly fine patch of dahlias, and as the autumn weather was continuing mild, we planned to use these showy blooms for our next executive luncheon, even though it was in mid-November. After all, they were hardy, and we had always had them for our Thanksgiving table. We wrote them down on the planning list and didn't think another thing about it.

Imagine our horror, as we were in our frantic, last-minute push to get the china, flatware, linens, serving dishes, and food packed up to travel the six miles to the refinery, to discover that a fickle, patchy, wicked frost had taken the dahlias the night before. They lay, limp and supine, on the dark earth, their stems and leaves transparently green, like when lettuce sat too close to the freezing compartment in my old refrigerator. The nearest place to buy flowers was ten miles away. There was no time.

Our catering kitchen was beside my mother's house on a hill just behind our old farmstead. As I stood on the brow of that hill with sagging shoulders and a defeated attitude and contemplated those dead dahlias, I happened to look down at my garden and saw a host of golden...broccoli blooms. My fall had been too busy to deal with all the sets I had optimistically planted in the spring, and they had now matured beyond edible greens and were well on their way to seed-dom.

I called to Mother to get out the bud vases instead of the bowls we were going to use for the dahlias, and I ran (with scissors) down to my garden and cut a huge bouquet of spiky broccoli blossoms. We changed the napkins from burgandy to yellow to match the flowers, and the tables looked lovely. In fact, we got more compliments on those flowers than we had from any others, possibly because nobody recognized what they were.

So, what is the moral of this parable? Well, I think it's that, even though you're well on your way to seed, you can still serve, be useful, beautify, save the day. I'm broccoli. I just turned sixty-five, and I am having some of the best, most astonishing, most productive times of my life. I have fallen into a new career that I love and expect to stay at it for several more years. I work with my husband; we're a great team and have altogether too much fun to consider what we do as work. I'm able to continue writing and hope to publish my sixth book (seventh written) this next summer.

But best of all, I'm able to teach my grandchildren in seminary. As I wend my way toward the full measure of my existence, as I grow more 'seedy', I hope that some of those seeds will waft on the winds of memory and bless the lives and testimonies of my great grandchildren, my posterity, through all generations of time.


  1. Oh Liz, what a great post for the Sabbath! I'm taking this lesson to heart: I can continue to serve well and beautify, wherever I go. Thanks for the terrific visual, too.

  2. I've been looking forward to your entry, Liz, and found it even exceeded my expectations. What a great experience! Broccoli (our kids called them 'trees') is a favorite with us to eat, and now I know how to decorate with it as well.

    I was half expecting the parable to show that necessity is the mother of invention (is that a clichet?) and felt immensely uplifted by your conclusions about the usefulness of 'seedy' people. You encourage me to keep trying.
    Bless you,

  3. LIz,
    I enjoyed your parable immensely! I have been struggling recently with the idea of aging and the things I have/haven't accomplished yet. I appreciate you words of encouragement and reminder that we are never too old. I will continue to persue my degree and I will not give up on my writing projects!

  4. Liz, what a great parable. As we all think of new year's resolutions, I look at the time of my life and, like Kari, lament on all that I haven't done yet, that I wish I had. I wonder if I'll be able to do all that's on my wish list of life before I have no more time left, or before I forget things quicker than I learn them (thanks Anna) or before I come to a crawling pace. Then I read a you-can-do-it entry like Liz's and it also reminded me of President Kimball's chronology that is in the front of our new study books this year. I put a mark next to the year that designated him my age now and noticed that the majority of his heralded accomplishments occurred AFTER that age. Both Liz and President Kimball taught me to continue to learn, grow, create, work and reach. I can't stop until Heavenly Father says it's time to stop, and that, I'm sure, will coincide with the ticking of my heart. I'll keep ticking if it does.

  5. Dear, dear Liz,
    As always, I love, learn from...and envy!...the power of your descriptive prose and fabulous vocabulary.
    I had steamed broccoli for dinner tonight and realized that for me, as "old broccoli," 'tis much better to be adornment than to be eaten.
    Love you!

  6. I'm still learning, here. Didn't realize until I read comments from other posts that posters can comment on comments. Great for people who always have to have the last word, except that you have to keep checking back.

    The best thing about this is the connection I have with all of you who commented. It gives me the warm fuzzies all over.

    Marsha, I was wondering about your patriarchal blessing. Were you given the gift of cheerleading? Or perhaps foreordained to that post? I've never seen a person so willing to express joy for other people's efforts. You invest yourself in all of us, and we bless you for it.


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