Tag Archives: mother

Gardening in the Rain

Tomato Garden

Gardening in the Rain

This afternoon, as I drove home from running errands, rain started falling. I did a few things and then saw that our kitchen compost jar needed emptying into the (wait for it) compost bin in the back yard. I did the deed, and, walking back to the house, noticed weeds and vines growing up through the forsythia, ivy, and azaleas. I had weeded the back yard about a month ago, but for me, any household task is a case of out of sight, out of mind, which is to say that I need visual reminders of what I’m supposed to do. Taking the compost out meant that I had to pass by the shrubs and their attendant weeds.

Now, the back yard didn’t look like something out of Charles Addams—there weren’t that many outlaw plants, and it only took about half an hour to either pull or cut the interlopers out. By the time I started weeding, the rain intensified, and I found myself pulling weeds in the rain.

I had to smile at this, because my mother used to do this. The harder the downpour, the happier she was, out in her gardens with no rain gear on, hopping from row to row, pulling weeds and cleaning up.

I thought she was nuts. She tried to explain to me that it was easier to pull weeds in the rain, and if you needed to wash something off, you just held it out.

“Mooooom!” I exclaimed. “If the neighbors see you outside gardening in the rain, they’ll think you’re crazy. And you won’t wear anything so you’re getting soaking wet.”

She sat down. “Maybe I am crazy. And when you go out in the rain, you get wet. I thought you knew that by now.”

I gave up trying to dissuade her from this practice. She was an incredible gardener, growing plants that experts said couldn’t be grown here. She gave away much of what she grew, flowers and fruits and vegetables. She and my dad did have a small vegetable table beside the road, and people who drove by came to be their friends. I suppose you could call that vegetable diplomacy.

She told me more than once when it was evident I had no interest in gardening (too much work, too much weather) “I always thought of the two of you (I have a younger brother) you would be my gardener.” I could hear the disappointment in her tone as she finished, “I guess I was wrong.”

She passed away seven years ago this October, and it wasn’t until this year that I felt the urge to garden. I had given up yard maintenance to our nephew Jonathan who runs his own lawn service, and only did what was absolutely necessary to keep our property from being condemned by the city.

My father got me started on my path to becoming a gardener. He was trying to raise tomatoes and corn in his apartment. The corn died, and the tomatoes were about to. “Would you like to have the tomatoes to grow at your place?” To tell the truth, I only took the plastic growing bin with its poor pitiful specimens of plantdom to reduce the clutter at his place. I put the green plastic box with its freight of dirt and incipient sprouts and put it on the deck. It did well. At least, it did better than it did in the apartment.

The tomatoes grew, as tomatoes do if conditions are right, until the box was no longer big enough to hold them. I thought I needed to put in a tomato bed, although some gardeners have success with “container gardening.” It look to me as if my gardening were growing out of my container. The plants were supposed to be eight inches to a foot apart. The bin was about 30 inches long and 12 wide, so its load of 20 plants was about 14 too many, according to my calculations.

So I built my tomato bed out of some 4×4’s left over from a fencing project. I had my first tiny red tomato a couple of days ago, and I was thrilled. I supposed I have been bitten by the gardening bug.

It’s odd what we learn in spite of ourselves. When I was younger and living at home, I basically didn’t want to do anything but read, eat, sleep and play my guitar. I certainly didn’t want to help my dad with the thousand and one tasks it takes to keep a farm going. I was forced to help sometimes, and he kept after me. My mom got tired of hearing me whine about having to pick beans or weed corn. I told her it was too hot, it was too humid, and insects bothered me. After a few minutes of my complaining she told me to go back into the house and read or whatever.

In the past few years, I have come to realize how much I learned from my dad about fixing things in spite of my reluctance to be around work. And I apparently picked up some gardening knowledge from my mom in spite of my limited exposure to growing things.

And that is why I had to smile when I thought of my mom gardening in the rain. At times, it almost looked like she was dancing along the rows, with a rhythm, sense of purpose and, well, joy at doing what she loved doing most. As for me, I didn’t dance in the rain as I weeded this afternoon, but I’ll get there. You can count on it.

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Friday Poem of the Week: June 6


June 6

A day in late spring

In which I did a little painting of part of a cinder block wall

Wrote on the computer for several hours

Had three good meals

Listened to the radio

And took a nap

But I was thinking

Of June 6 sixty-nine years before

And a place an ocean removed from my comfortable home.


And of the thousands of men and women involved in the greatest invasion in history

Dropping into danger, coming ashore under murderous fire, scaling high cliffs,

Dying, wounded, striving and finally prevailing on that day,

The beginning of the end for the Thousand-Year Reich.

My mother talked of ironing and listening to the news on the radio

My father was somewhere in Burma or China or India

(He said they often didn’t know where they were)

And I am right here, musing that there was so little notice of the sacrifices made on this day

And thinking that there needs to be some kind of notice.

And so, brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, people on the home front, here is your notice:

On this day I salute you and I thank you, living and dead, for your sacrifice

That gave me this peaceful day

On June 6

So many years


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Fixing the Beans

Green Beans

Fixing the Beans

I would like to be a better cook, but I don’t stand a chance. I am part of a family of phenomenal cooks, including my wife, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and my daughters. When it comes to special family meal occasions, they do the heavy lifting and I am consigned to making the iced tea and rice (Uncle Ben and I are tight like that). I can make a few things, but at this point I don’t think I will ever achieve Paula Deen or Rachael Ray status.

There are even specialities within the family menu: my mother-in-law makes wonderful deviled eggs; my sister-in-law does incredible rolls and baked products; my younger daughter has a deft touch with a taco dip; my older daughter has green bean casserole (GBC) all tied up; and my wife fixes green beans that could serve as a meal by themselves. Recently she ran into a time crunch before a family meal and asked me to snap the beans. I was excited to be asked to be part of a signature dish. I cut the ends off the pile of beans and then broke them into pieces. I am here to report that beans, or at least the ones we used, do not have the strings they used to. The agronomists have done some good work over the years. Back in the day you ended up with a piled of bean strings as big as the pile of beans. And they were tough enough to weave a rope that Indiana Jones could use.

While I was snapping the beans I found I soon fell into a rhythm that was comfortable and familiar. Then I remembered all the times my mother asked me to help her string beans. It was not my favorite chore–in fact, I didn’t have any favorite chores since I was a lazy slug and preferred reading and watching television. So I would reluctantly string the beans, missing enough that my mom had to go back through then. When I broke them up, I broke them into large pieces that would take less time. Again, she had to redo them. It’s a wonder she asked me to help. Maybe she was thinking I would catch on. I’m pleased to report that I did, decades later, and can break beans with the best of them.

Sometimes we learn from our parents in ways we’re not even aware of later on. My love of poetry and music came from my mother. She would walk around the house reciting poems she had memorized, Tennyson and Browning mostly, and I ended up majoring in English (with more poetry classes than anything) and teaching English for over 30 years. She also sang as she worked in the house or the garden, and music has been an important part of my life from the days of teaching myself to play guitar to currently being in four musical groups. She was also an inveterate reader, as I am.

Of course, not all of her interests took. She was a master gardener, and I can’t make anything grow. Gardening always seemed like hard work to me. I know, there are rewards but I can’t seem to get to them. A number of years ago I told her I was considering putting in a vegetable garden. She looked at me and said, “Just go to the farmers’ market instead.” She knew.

I never thanked my mother as such for these interests that she gave me, but I believe she understood without my saying how much they meant to me. She wasn’t much on expression through words or overt recognition. She didn’t care at all for Mother’s Day, thinking it was a false and extravagant occasion. She said, “Everyone is nice to their mothers on Mother’s Day and mean to them the rest of the year.” I told her I would be mean to her on Mother’s Day and nice to her the rest of the year. I always saw her then or if I couldn’t, I’d call her and tell her I was doing so because that’s what you were supposed to do on Mother’s Day.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I hope you will express your thanks to your mother for all she has done for you if you are able. If you do not have a good relationship with your mother, I hope there was someone who acted as a mother for you. If you are unable to tell your mother in person, I hope your memories of her are good and strong. And to all you moms and all you women who have acted as moms, thank you.


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