From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

The Great Dill Deal

Comedy is acting out optimism.

Robin Williams

My parents, God bless them, lived through the Holocaust as children. After coming to America in 1947, my father labored in a sweat shop so that they could start a fruit and vegetable stand.

Their childhood experience did not include cooking lessons, so my parents only learned to cook as adults in America. My father’s single culinary accomplishment was making hard-boiled eggs, and even those he usually mistimed. My mother easily outdistanced my father. She could, when pressed, cook seven different meals—but in reality, there were only two she made well: spaghetti and meatballs, thanks to the patient Italian grandmothers in our neighborhood, and a great pot of chicken soup. As she had access to all the vegetables in what was now our store, she would toss unusual ones, such as parsnips and parsley root, into the mix. But what distinguished Mom’s chicken soup from any other I’ve tasted was one special ingredient: fresh dill.

Mom always made her chicken soup at the right time. Rarely did she make it for someone already sick; yet she knew instinctively when you needed some as preventive medicine. Somehow she also knew when hard times were coming. When a slew of salesmen would arrive, all demanding payment, there was a soul-soothing pot of chicken soup. Let the refrigerator break down, the tax man call, the employees leave without notice! We had chicken soup with fresh dill and we would be okay!

Many years later, my parents’ store on Long Island burnt to the ground. They had no choice but to give up the retail trade and concentrate on building their fledgling wholesale produce business in New York City. They did so with their customary passion, and in a few years were doing pretty well. They specialized in carrying unusual and gourmet items—including fresh dill.

One winter, primarily for their health, they took a vacation. My brother and I flew to New York to help run the business while they were gone. It just so happened that in the second week, a freeze struck the South and virtually the entire fresh dill crop was wiped out. Demand for dill was enormous. You could practically hear the screams of distraught mothers from a hundred miles away.

Serendipitously, my brother and I had connections. We had lived in California and we knew the few dill growers there. In a matter of hours, we had arranged a stream of air shipments of dill to New York. We had the only dill in town, and although the supplies were still small, we made thousands upon thousands in profits—from dill!

When my parents returned from vacation, tanned and delighted to have missed some of the nastiest weather New York had seen in decades, they were especially happy to hear the story of the Great Dill Deal.

A few winters later, my brother and I had a business that was getting into real trouble. We became very worried, forgetting that business has its vicissitudes (the one big fancy word my dad knew and consequently used often), and that business isn’t the only thing in life.

One afternoon when we were feeling especially downtrodden, a package from our folks arrived, sent from their new home in the Dominican Republic.

There was no letter, only a beautiful, custom-made wood plaque with a hand-carved message: NO BIG DILL. And you know what? After that, it really wasn’t.

The Reverend Aaron Zerah

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