My dad’s parents were farmers. Granny and Grandad were retired by the time I was old enough to really remember and know them. Grandad occasionally worked as a contract painter, which had been his day job before he retired, but at the root of them, they were farmers who owned a large plot of land and used the majority of it to grow their own vegetables and fruits, cultivated flowers for pleasure, raised chickens for eggs, and until he was too old to enjoy it, Grandad hunted for deer, quail, and the like.
One of my earliest memories is of Granny putting a plastic bowl in my lap and a bag of unsnapped beans between us as we sat on the large side porch that faced her flower garden. She began pulling beans out of the bag, snapping them, and dropping them into her own plastic bowl. I followed her lead. Later, she taught me to shell peas, to unzip the shell, to take my thumb and run it down the shell. I spent many Friday nights sitting in her living room watching Dallas with her as we shelled peas, snapped beans, harvesting what she and Grandad grew.
When I was big enough, six or seven years old, I helped them work their land. I tilled with my grandfather, planted with my grandmother, picked ripe fruit from the fruit trees and berry bushes. I learned to can, to make preserves, how to wrap meat so it could go into the deep freezer my grandmother kept in one of their out buildings. With indulgent exasperation, my grandfather often scolded me for pulling radishes, I didn’t like them, and beets, squishing them with one of his many tools was strangely satisfying. I ate carrots straight from the ground, tomatoes off the vine. I dug potatoes and plucked lettuce. I tended the gardens, the vegetables and flowers, with my grandmother. My grandparents loved the land.
It’s been years since I cultivated my own plot of soil, to grow vegetables, to nurture flowers. At our old house, my excuse was the backyard was too small. I wanted the land there was to be for my kids. At our new house, the backyard is huge and has a corner near the house that’s perfect for crops. The front yard is perfect for flowers.
I’m the grandchild of farmers. I know how to grow my own. I’m a teacher. I know how to foster learning. So, this morning, I planted two container gardens with AJ. I taught him to match soil lines on stems, to loosen up root balls, to give the flowers every chance to grow. I planted one container garden to model for him. He, with his tongue caught between his teeth and express of intense concentration, planted the other. One is sunny, yellow, white, and green. One is moody with flashes of bright.
Later this afternoon, I’ll guide S through planting the herbs I bought. We’ll plant the pepper plants and tomato plants. I’ll hang the strawberry plant and see if strawberries are as finicky as I remember. I’ll share with her, as I shared with AJ this morning, the legacy of their great-grandparents and great-great grandparents, of growing that runs through their blood, the need, sometimes, to tend to the land.
It’s not much, certainly not nearly what my grandparents grew. But, there is something deeply satisfying and soothing in planting, feeling the dark soil, giving the plant to the earth, trusting the earth to nurture and provide. I don’t feel I can trust many things since my life took such an unexpected turn with cancer, but I can trust the earth.
It’s never let me down.