The rains are welcomed on this good Southern dirt. It renews the dry, the dying, the lack of growth. Planting gardens is a way of life here where I live. Folks have been growing gardens, canning their foods and "Putting up" the fruits of their labor since I can remember. My favorite is a fresh, ripe, red, tomato. You may call it a vegetable, or you may call it a fruit. I just call it delicious. When served up with hot cornbread and beans it can make even the saddest of hearts smile. I seem to hear my late Grandmother’s voice echo when I tell my own adult children, Nothing tastes better than a freshly picked tomato.
I’ve had the pleasure of dining in fine restaurants from New York to Florida. But all roads really do lead to home. You may keep the fancy stuff and leave for me the simple fixings of fresh grown squash, new potatoes, beans, peppers, tomatoes and all of the good foods one can grow in a humble, novice, vegetable garden. I guess you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. Although, when we first married, my husband called me his city girl. He knew he had his work cut out for him. But, he was up for the challenge. He did a fine job of seeing to it that I learned to appreciate the easier, simpler, things of life.
I eventually traded my desire for concrete and high-rise buildings for towering, majestic, mountains. Dirt didn’t seem so "Dirty" after awhile and even produce from the store was never the same. There was and is absolutely no comparison. My husband succeeded in making a true country girl out of me.
When I was a youngster, I never understood why someone would want toil so hard, pampering, watering, tending to a little seed waiting for it to produce a bean. I felt it was a waste of good time and I lacked the patience for it. I reasoned that one could take a quick trip to the local market and purchase food right from a can. Voila! No waiting. Now I know better. With age comes a bit of patience. I understand the reward of the waiting. Heaven only knows where that store bought produce comes from! Most foods today are polluted with chemicals and preservatives. There is certainly a great difference in the taste. I owe my knowledgeable palate to my late husband, who was the caretaker of many things and certainly, our garden. It seemed he could look at a seed and it would flourish.
Every year he planted for us, out on the back acre, a garden large enough to feed many. After he learned to outwit the fowls and vermin that had come down from trees and flew out of the skies to eat his wares, we feasted on fresh garden foods. The food was scrumptious and he felt triumphant. We were living a good life. He was always carrying a bag of goodies to appreciative co-workers and neighbors. I fussed. I worried that he devoted too much of himself and energy to the garden. But, I underestimated the therapy it provided for him. The garden was his space. It offered up a quiet time, free from the worries of the world as he communed with God and found an unspeakable peace while letting go of the more complex things of life.
To me it was a garden, albeit, delightful and delicious. But to him it was a world of his own creation. It gave him joy to provide for his family, healthy robust foods, just like the food he’d come to love from his childhood. There in his garden he was master of his domain. And in that confidence, he found great joy. I finally came to realize, to him there was more to it than just planting a few seeds. It was satisfaction of orchestrating something larger than life. He was creating with his hands. This city girl never learned to can the foods quite the way his mother or grandmother had successfully done. No matter, there was always plenty to eat and the rest was for sharing. It made him happy; sharing and remembering the good old days when neighbors did that sort of thing. Too young to experience the great depression personally, he recalled many stories from his grandparents and he taught his children great values, such as to always be thankful for what they had on their plates.
Since he died, I haven’t been able to return to the kitchen and cook an old fashioned meal, the kind that he would have loved and bragged on. My heart will alway miss the man who made it feel like home to me, no matter where we lived. Still, the gifts of this year’s fresh squash and tomatoes have not gone wasted. Neighbors are kind and I welcome their gifts of fresh vegetables and appreciate their hard work.
The back acre is empty now. A lonely reminder of where a tender man once toiled with great joy to provide for those he loved. But, so much of him remains here with us now. This September we would have celebrated our thrity-fifth wedding anniversary. I’ve been reflecting on all the good things he left to me and his children. He passed along rich values. He showed us the joy of sharing all that we have been blessed with, even if it’s just a tomato. He showed us there is reward in being patient and above all, he taught me the splendor of simplicity.