My brother is an onion farmer.
At this time of year his barns are full of onions in great golden heaps; papery skins slithering like the reptilian scales of some mythical beast; so that one would not be surprised to see the blink of a jewelled eye and to realise that Smaug had deserted his mountain lair for the flat and fertile fenland of Cambridgeshire.
A few days ago I collected a bag of onions from my brother (c'mon, I'm not going to actually pay for onions from a supermarket when I can get them for free, am I?) He lifted out a sample of his crop with tender pride, exhibiting the glowing finish on the deep amber skin; the regular orb shape, so perfect that it could be used to decorate next year's Christmas Tree; the weight of it, a hefty nine ounces.
My brother grows damn fine onions.
Give him half a chance and he'll tell you about drilling them (that's sowing to you and me), fertilizing them, spraying them for weeds, irrigating them, irrigating them and yes, irrigating them (onions use a lot of water: my brother dug his own reservoir for the purpose) and harvesting them. Oh, and storing them and the rat problem he's had this year. He'll tell you about the man who comes to buy them and the prices he's been offered.
All this could be boring, but it's not.
It's not boring because when somebody is as passionate as my brother is, their enthusiasm is contagious. When he relates the story of the cyclone which ripped up all his freshly drilled seed, your heart is in your mouth. The tale of the rats is more gripping than the Pied Piper of Hamlyn; even if their end is rather more prosaic than merely dancing off in the wake of an eccentrically dressed flautist.
But my brother wasn't always an onion farmer.
Oh, he was always a farmer. There was the farm; he was the only boy: what else was he to do? But my late uncle was a cattle man. His passion was dairy shorthorns. Other uncles (although our father died young we're rich in uncles) grow celery, barley, sugar beet, potatoes. My brother tried for many years to grow potatoes too, without success. He farmed out of duty to the family, not for joy in his heart.
I forget how he discovered onions. He may have tried linseed, or celery or flax first. But then came the onions; and the passion and pride and (never to be sneered at) profit.
He didn't run away to sea. He didn't disappoint the family by selling up the farm and going to be a missionary in Africa (although if the Lord calls...) He just kept trying a different crop on the same land, with the same family commitments. He still found his passion.
And I forgot to say, the onions taste pretty good too. Have you ever tried roasted onions?
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