I’ve had more than one conversation lately, begun with the question, “You’re not gardening are you?”
Oh yes, I’m gardening, swollen belly, aching back, thankful I’ve got a husband to swing the hoe and big boys to haul loads of mulch.
Maybe it’s that my earliest memory of my dad is in his cross tie garden next to our split foyer house in Hixon, Tennessee. Me eating a strawberry plucked from a tiny plant. How is it that I remember, three years old, that single berry?
Then he leaves and memories shift. It’s not dad in the garden anymore, it’s dad every other weekend. At home it’s new dad, it’s stepdad, it’s call the police and run to the neighbors he’s hit mom again, dad. So much of my memory is tied up in trauma, but I’m not traumatized anymore, not usually.
I’ve found the pockets of good life tied up in those early days. I remember that strawberry. I remember those neatly arranged beds. My mom says even in medical school, my dad built a garden out of cross ties in the alley behind their tiny apartment. Those gardens, somehow they made their way into my blood.
I wonder what my life would have looked like had he stayed. Would I have grown up, hands in the soil, next to my dad, nurturing nature within myself, within our garden? What stories would I have to tell my kids?
Yes, I’ve got stories, I’ve got ugly ones. But I remember that strawberry, those neatly arranged garden beds, and now I’ve got my own. My kids, their memories, I work hard to give them the good ones. The only police they see are driving by on the road.
And when the funny man at the health food store tries to sell me a bag of sprouted potatoes at 40 cents a pound, exclaiming that I can’t beat that price, I almost do it, despite having already planted thirty five pounds of potatoes in these past weeks. But I don’t even consider the gallon of blackstrap molasses he’s been pushing for the past two years. No, I don’t want a gallon of molasses, not even at the best price in town.
A sixth child will soon join our family, a third in our bedroom, and rather than pushing Jonny to add on to this house, I am thinking I need him to dig for me a root cellar. Where on earth, other than in the earth, am I going to store all those potatoes this fall?
He wants to move, he’s says this house is too small, and sometimes I agree. There are times I cry for more space. But I’m thinking, I’ve lived here nearly nine years, the longest I’ve ever lived in any home, and this place is mine. I don’t need a bedroom. I just need a cellar.
And about my back? It’s killing me, whether I crawl around hands and knees in the dirt or not. It’s making me cry it’s so bad some days. So I may as well get my fill and plant my biggest garden ever. We’ll have potatoes, no doubt about that. And when I am sitting in bed nursing a new baby come late May, I’ll be able to look right out my bedroom window from the soft of my bed, and see the fruit of all that work. I’ll smile and think of that first strawberry. That first taste of homegrown food that sprouted within me a lifelong love.