Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The Family Garden
For Uncle Mike
I come from a family of gardeners. For generations we have tilled the soil, planted and harvested our bounty to the family table. Rows of fine flowers have lined our yards, a symbol of pride for those who reside there.
My grandfather Armando and grandmother Rose planted a garden so vast it would feed an entire family with enough to sell to the local grocers, to provide money for the things they could not grow. Ripe tomatoes and hot banana peppers remain the staple of family recipes to this day.
My grandmother Eva and grandfather Perry once raised a garden to sell by truck. Years later, as a child, I wandered the strawberry beds, the apple trees, the rhubarb patch and marveled at the many wonders growing there. Small hands shelling peas into the white porcelain bowl and snapping beans for the next meal, while hearing the stories of Eva, are treasures that reside in my mind’s eye.
My mother has spent her life tending to the family garden, providing beauty to us all. A favorite photograph of my daughter at three, sitting proudly by the flowers that she helped her grandmother plant, resides in the family album.
With the end of the hoe I break through the crust of the earth that has formed there. The many months of snow have passed and the earth lies here, waiting. With hoe and rake I work this square of ground, picking out the dead, the rocks, the sticks, the leftover root systems, clearing the way for new life. With a push and a shove, I start the first row, looking down to check for depth and then up again. The first row is the most important. It must be straight. The others will follow.
I crawl between the rows; placing the seeds, then with bare hands, gently cover them as if they were my children. As each row is complete I stand up to look it up and down searching for imperfections. I pound a stake on which to place the seed package, a guide for future reference.
There is something so special about this process, so special in creating living, flowering greenery from this dirt, where nothing stood before. Tending to these seedlings each day, builds to excitement as the first lettuce leaves push forth and the bean creatures poke out their ugly heads. We have done this for centuries, digging this earth, planting our seeds, and then waiting, watching in wonder as these beings push forth as if it were the first time.
As summer passes, I will spend my evenings picking through these rows, planning dinner in my apron, like my grandmothers before me. Perhaps a crisp salad with scallions and a banana pepper, a sauce of tomatoes with fresh basil, or an omelet with baby asparagus will be the choice today. I look and listen, as the plants call out to me.