My grandmother made the best sancocho, Dominican stew, in the universe. My stomach used to rumble in blissful song every time she was cooking it. I used to go dizzy with delight when the scent of seven meats, a larger number of herbs and every vegetable you can think of, danced together in a cauldron womaned by old hands who knew how to love.
But for the longest time, I couldn’t eat my grandma’s stew…
The aroma of sancocho was finger-linking yum, but for the first six or seven years of my life, the sight of the thick meat-and-vegetable-rich mix made me retch. My grandma stopped making the stew. We stuck to fruits, tostones (fried plantain), and anything that didn’t send my stomach into pandemonium.
Then a woman who loved books, teaching, and witchery moved into our village. She invited a few people over for a Sunday meal in her yard. She made sancocho. My grandma asked for fruits and maybe some bread for me. The book-lover-teacher-witch was confused. “The child has been drooling over the stew all day. Once or thrice, I was sure she was going into scent seizure and everything,” she said laughing.
My grandma explained that I liked the smells just fine, but the sight and taste (we were braver than it was wise once or thrice) made me sick to my stomach. The book-lover-teacher-witch gave me a funny look before walking away and going into her house.
She came back holding three pinkish bowls, a strainer, and hot water in small a saucer. She put everything on her rough outside kitchen table, and said, “Sit.” My grandma and I sat, and watched the book-lover-teacher-witch put meat in one bowl, vegetable into the other, and then strain a serving of sancocho into the third bowl. With the hot water, she rinsed off the vegetables and the meat. Then, gently, she put the cleaned pieces into the just as clean liquid. “Eat,” she said.
I looked at my grandma. She shrugged. I ate. It was perfect. I think I cried, but the tears might have been coming out of my grandmother’s eyes. Sancocho still is one of my favorite foods, but I’ve learned to control my OCD enough to be able to eat it without the book-lover-teacher-witch’s cleaning ritual. Well, most of the time… if I’m tired, stressed out, or nervous, I still can’t eat mixed foods, foods that touch on the plate, or meal my brain perceives as unclean.
This is my second time reading Debora Geary’s A Different Witch. The first time, I emailed her to say that her from the soul and to the heart storytelling made me cry, laugh, and feel not so weird. You see my Wicked Luvs, Beth, the main character in this story is a witch with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Beth’s kind of autism doesn’t confine her to the chaotic realm of her brain, but it makes life difficult and terrifying at times. But this miracle of a woman doesn’t only survive the jumbled up hand Nature has dealt her; she lives with grace and with her chin up. She can do this because she has a partner who loves her. Who helps her see, understand, that being different is not a bad thing, it’s just different. And no one can make that a bad thing, unless she lets them.
Many of the characters in A Different Witch get to understand the same about Beth. And I’m almost sure that if you are not lucky enough to know what this means, reading the novel will help you see into the brain and heart of “a witch awakened—and a witch [who used to be] alone. A different witch...”a woman who understands that in order to be brave, one must first embrace fear.
If you haven’t experienced the world of A Different Witch, do—you might find it to be quite magical ;-)