THE FAMILY GARDEN

Here it is the day before Thanksgiving and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about yesteryear and of the many gatherings at momma’s and at the homes of distant family. Yesterday, I bought the meats and produce needed to make this year’s holiday meal for mom, wife Christina, and myself. Studying the bin near the back of the grocery, the big Tom was obviously too large so I stood there dumfounded wondering what to buy.  Go big, or not …hmmm? An employee, ripe in his years and while sweeping the floor, saw me and stopped a minute to weigh in on my dilemma before offering his own take on my predicament.  Regardless of the various scenarios I presented, he caringly responded “if it works for you, that’s good.”  Well yes, of course and I was about to walk away when behind me I noticed packages of precooked turkey in gravy hanging from the deli display …the only requirement was a microwave and six minutes. Sold! …the smaller portions were perfect for mom and I as my wife is purely vegetarian.

Next was the big decision, should I buy the Italian pole beans or the big cans of Hannaford’s string beans? Are the Italian beans anything like those out of Kentucky I grew up eating? Lord, how I yearned one more time for mom’s home-canned beans.  I remembered all those years the many jars set atop towels along a wall in the living room.  Every week or so mom used the back of a spoon to tap the jar lids, making sure the seals had not failed. Before leaving the grocery, I had potatoes, beans, a pie, and all the fixings, along with ingredients needed to make a cheesy broccoli casserole.  Mom never made casseroles as that dish is especially intended for my wife who had been thinking lately of her sister. Sue passed years before my wife and I ever met and I understand she loved to cook and always made a wonderful casserole, as well as numerous yummy desserts.

And now, back home, while mom watches her sixth episode of Little House for the day, I sit nearby with laptop on my knees content that the world is good. Christina, walked by, heading to the front yard carrying every spare bed sheet she could find. She marched like a soldier on a mission to do battle in advance of this year’s first seriously freezing night. Life is so simply harsh and I’d like to tell her that all is okay for this is the time for nature to yield in advance of winter. Unlike in spring, a time when swelling buds from warming temperatures are often unfairly nipped, the suddenness of a killing frost in the fall is better understood. We spiritually grow to appreciate death and the need for rest in advance of the big reveal to come.

My dad used to say that this was the time when the yard had gone to rest. He would have spent the last weeks before Thanksgiving “putting the yard to sleep” and at that point, only needed to further worry about the falling leaves for which his Lawnboy was the answer.  And on the festive day of Thanksgiving, he understood the need for appreciation, giving thanks for this year’s bounty while preparing his thoughts for the doldrums of winter.

I’ve grown my share of gardens, but as mom often pointed out, it’s not such a big need anymore since food has become cheaper with the refinement of quick-freeze vegetables. I guess it has gotten much better that way as to the contrary, mom often spoke of her childhood and of her father declaring “look, those are homes of Republicans as all they knew to eat was out of a can.” About our society’s move from subsistence gardening, I remember telling a lady once that people don’t garden like they once did to which she responded, “but I have a lovely garden!” When asked how many quarts she had put up her response was a simple conversation halting “ohhh.”

Beyond growing vegetables from seed, I am blessed to have grown up in a family who looked at every spot of yard wondering “what could go there.”  Times were different early on with few buying plants from the nursery as money was tight. I remember driving with dad “down home” where he dug up three small river birches from the bottom land where he had played as a child.  He saw liriope borders at a house on Queen’s Road and somehow ended up with a start. I remember Ms. Bost, Ma Boone, and Ms. Mac, all neighbors, each independantly proud of their yards and yet there is plenty of evidence of their sharing.  It’s neat now to drive down any street in the older parts of town, seeing plantings clearly resultant from what was once a very neighborly exchange.  I may spot in yards near each other, the same forsythia, azalea plantings, or some old cultivar of hellebore, imagining the conversations and numerous platitudes that led to what I am seeing.

We all take a little from our “roots” and for me I am grateful this year that I was raised to appreciate gardening, and yet we are all modified in it all, in time. After the passing of my father, mom and I spent countless hours in both her yard and beyond, contemplating on what next. We’ve made mistakes in layout and selection and even had to start over a few times, but this thing of gardening is a journey, and the process is all about change. Embrace it and yet, in taking account of my own little slice of the world, I am thankful to be able to honor my family past through landscape.

Whether by way of the King Solomon daffodils or my dad’s favorite Camelia Japonica, or maybe Ms. Mac’s Formosa azalea and even the iris I am photographed trampling as a toddler, I am surrounded by memories as I sit here contemplating next year. I am also thankful for buying into the idea of sharing, and of asking for “starts” from family and the special people I have visited through the years. In my yard is a rock from Pless’ mountain, in Arkansas, just as there is a rock from “down home” along with bricks hand-made by my grandfather’s siblings. I was given a Japanese maple said to have been the offspring of a grand tree that once adorned Billy Graham’s momma’s front entrance.  And there are also the azaleas and the Grandsire Greybeard given to me by family friend Loren Smith.  These plants and many more are now a part of my herbaceous memory album, linking me to my past. The smell of earth and joy in maintaining my simple connections are as important as any family photo I own. Each speaks in its own way and yet both pictures and plants are finite to the degree we care for their preservation.

Seeking to find the perfect picture for this simple sort of post, I chose the image above, of germinating larkspur raising their heads from the cooling grounds as winter approaches.  I have always heard of the magic of larkspurs, imagining them peppered wildly throughout my flowering landscape.  Of this understanding, and in moving beyond the traditional conversations over chain-linked fences o old, Facebook connected me with an old family cousin who as a child, played with and walked to school alongside my mother. Mom and I had the chance to visit in person and through the next year or so, it was good to see these folks sharing a bit of the past, of their gardening, and of my newly found cousin’s beautiful larkspur. From an envelope of seed received through the mail, this year’s “start” has been productive with the memories now being made secure as next year’s flowers break from the ground. At a time when most things in the landscape speak of going to sleep, Larkspur bless us with the realization there are plans greater than what we naturally expect.

2 thoughts on “THE FAMILY GARDEN

  1. Nicki

    I have some of the same memories, my grandparents kept us all fed out of a 2 acre garden on Main Street in Albemarle. You have a gift of drawing out memories with your writing.

    Have a blessed day!

    Reply

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