Randall Winn

Mrs. Zardelli’s Ghost Zucchini

Mrs. Zardelli lived in a small house behind a tall fence where she tended the Victory Garden her parents had planted the year of her birth: 1942. 
She lived at the opposite corner of the block so I never saw her except at Zucchini Season. You know Zucchini Season?
That time of year when the summer squash is busting out.
If you stand in one place too long, a gardener will hand you a bag of produce. 
Every last Saturday in August I’d hear the clack-clack-clack of her little old lady shoes up my wooden steps.
Bang-bang-bang! on my door.
Thump! she set down a bag. 
I’d get to the door and open.
“Thank you Mrs. Zardelli!”, I’d say.
 
“You’re welcome dearie!”, she’d reply over her shoulder, as off she’d go clack-clack-clack, cutting across my tulip beds.
No harm done; that season the tulips are sleeping;
She had been cutting that corner since before I was born:
Not gonna change! 
Every year the bag had something different: 
Green standard Zucchini, 
Yellow Crookneck, 
Chayote, 
Cocozella di Napoli, 
Pattypan and the little round Eight Ball Zucchini, 
Canadian Red (which isn’t really red), 
The spicy Green Houdini, 
Last year the newly developed Hogwarts: lumpy but so tasty! 
This year I was in the basement folding laundry when I heard:
clack-clack-clack
bang-bang-bang
Thump!
I called “Thank you Mrs. Zardelli!” 
I heard “You’re welcome dearie!”
clack-clack-clack.
By the time I got to the front door she was gone, but for footprints in the tulip bed and the bag on my porch.
I picked it up. 
You’ve all heard of ghost pumpkin: a fairly ordinary pumpkin except the outside is white as bone.
This year Mrs. Zardelli’s bag was full of zucchini pale and white as death. 
I gave them the usual treatment. I sliced them into spears and pickled them in a long bath in vinegar and spices, and canned them in those pint mason jars with the waffle weave design, carefully labeled with the variety and year:
Mrs Zardelli’s Ghost Zucchini 2018.
I saved some for Neighborhood Night Out. That’s a citywide event where you block off your street
and have a party to meet or catch up with the neighbor as you haven’t seen all year,
to break bread and share a drink. 
I boxed a dozen pints, put the loosies on a nice plate and set out for the potluck.
I put the plate on the table, slid the box underneath, and started circulating and saying hello.
Potlucks are not supposed to be competitive.
But you can’t help looking now and then to see if people at taking yours.
Be honest – you do it too! 
I just finished saying hello to everyone there when I looked back and saw: my pickled zucchini spears were gone!
FIRST HA-HA! 
I trotted back to get the box of jars to hand out
I saw Mrs DuPree from down the block 
Me: “Would you like some?” 
Her: “Ooh, thank you hon, we always love these. And, ooooh hon, it is so sweet of you to remember Dolly with these.” 
Me: “Dolly?” 
Her: “You knew her as Mrs. Zardelli. We were girls together. It is so sweet of you to put her name on the jars.” 
Me: “Well I had to. She grew the zucchini!” 
Her: “Ooh, young man don’t be so silly. She passed away over Christmas. That garden has been empty all year.” 
Me: “I see………………………….”
“Would you like the whole box?”