"Not yet?" I asked.
I'd thought this would be the week. It was early March and I was eagerly awaiting asparagus season. I'd turned the corner towards a long row of stalls at the farmer's market. My favorite vendor became visible. My heart sank as I saw only potatoes displayed at his stall. Asparagus season was not yet to be. It would be another long week before the lovely spears would trumpet the true arrival of spring. Forget the calendar, fresh asparagus in Northern California tells me that spring is here. But, it wouldn't be this week.
"Sorry buddy, it'll be another week. Next week it'll be here. I promise," he answered.
For as long as I can remember, I've been asking Chris about asparagus season. A hundred days out he'd know the exact date of the first harvest. During the off-season he sold potatoes but everyone who knew him understood that Chris was all about asparagus. He knew more about it than anyone and everyone knew that he had the best asparagus at the market— maybe even the best asparagus on the planet.
I looked forward to seeing him every Sunday and not only about asparagus. He was a serious Green Bay Packers fan and football was his second-favorite subject. We'd go on for about ten minutes about growing seasons and throwing seasons. He'd always end the banter with a smile.
"See ya next week, buddy," he'd always say.
Suddenly, towards the end of this year's asparagus season, Chris disappeared. He'd taken breaks before, but never during spring. That was his season. Sometimes he'd be gone in autumn or maybe winter but if there was asparagus at his stall, Chris would almost always be there. I thought it to be odd but I went on, minding my own business. It was the end of the season anyway and I figured he needed a well-deserved break from the mayhem of the summer-market frenzy. But months passed—still no Chris.
"How's Chris doing?" I asked.
This past Sunday I finally had to find out from the kind woman who's taken over the job of working the booth since April. I've been buying potatoes from her, curiously wondering why Chris was away. The market was uncharacteristically slow this foggy morning, so I figured I'd finally ask. Where was Chris?
"Chris died," she answered, tears welling in her eyes. " "He passed away in April."
My heart skipped a beat as my mouth dropped open. The bustling market suddenly seemed empty. I walked off in a daze after expressing my condolences. The crowd seemed to walk by me in slow motion.
The shock lasted long after I drove home and up to this moment, three days later. And while it's difficult now to imagine our market without him, it will be inconceivable come asparagus season. My buddy is gone and life just became a lot more empty. The Sunday farmer's market will be emptier still.