A long, long time ago, my grandmother handed me a bottle of honey without a single drop of honey in it. Instead, the bottle was filled with cilantro seeds from the plant in her garden. She had removed the seeds from her plant, set them out to dry for about a month, and stored them in the empty honey bottle, and when she gave them to me she told me to make sure I saved the seeds from my own cilantro plants so that I could keep the tradition going.
I kept the bottle exactly as she had given it to me for several years. We never had our own garden at the house we used to rent when I was married. Afterwards, my mother-in-law got sick so we moved back in with her and the bottle of seeds came with me. The year after my own mother died, and then my mother-in-law, and then my grandmother, we moved into the house in which I live today. And one year I actually did try to start a garden. I planted a few of my grandmother’s seeds and they actually sprouted. But I’m descuidada when it comes to plants (and other things), and the cilantro plants never flourished. I didn’t even get enough leaves for a single caldo de papa. What I did learn that year was how very precious those cilantro seeds were to me, and I vowed to never waste another one again. Instead of planting them, I stored them, still in their little plastic bottle, inside one of my kitchen cupboards.
This past year, my mother’s older brother passed away. Out of eleven siblings, only nine remain. We are a very close-knit family and my uncles and aunts are, in many ways, like my step-in parents. They look out for me and love me, and even though I’ve never been particularly good at being a daughter, they accept me the way I am and I love them for it. Lately I have begun to collect their stories, one by one, of their early years in Colombia and of their transitions to America. They are all of them very eloquent and have excellent memories, and I’m enjoying myself thoroughly in the gathering of these stories, these histories, these roots.
Every time I clean out my cabinets (which is at least once a year before our annual Halloween party), I pick up that little bottle of cilantro leaves. This year, when I picked it up and held it in my hands and thought about my grandmother, I realized how selfish it was of me to keep those seeds all to myself. The very next day I went out and got a dozen little glass jars. I placed a few seeds into nine of them and corked them up, one for each of my Tíos. Over the next couple of months, I’m going to give them out and I know they will be appreciated just as much as I appreciate my own original honey bottle. The seeds inside have dried up well beyond the stage of being able to sprout, I’m sure, but I think they’re more precious as seeds anyway, just the way she gave them to me.
And there’s something else I want to say about this. See, I’ve been learning a lot this semester. Reading things I never would have read on my own. Having thoughts I never would have had. Questioning things I never would have questioned. Discovering things I never would have discovered. I’m growing, I can feel it. I’m stronger now and more willing to loosen up when it comes to my writing. I am beginning to find my voice and I’m overjoyed about that. Somehow I feel that this is connected to those cilantro seeds–how I am learning to take something that was so precious to me for so long, and so inherently my own, and redistribute it so that the essence of the thing remains intact, but the container that holds it is new, small, transparent, and a little more shareable. Because what’s the point of keeping it all to myself?