Friday, May 22, 2015

Roots of My Raising

"A bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck" ~ Guys and Dolls
*Reprinted from Accent West Magazine, May 2015*

Lila Beth Vines, my maternal grandmother, is still my favorite person on this planet - or more specifically in my garden. The seeds she used to grow the vegetables she canned were only half as fruitful as the seeds of legacy, love and patience she sowed in my heart. And it only takes some dirt, a pair of gloves and some seedlings to transport me right back into her yard. That is the only reason I'll ever need for having a vegetable garden.

Every spring I grab the Farmers Almanac and my seed catalogs as I prepare to plant my garden. I jump online and research the latest and greatest ways to plant while simultaneously checking on how best to keep pests away. In the meantime, my husband tills the ground and loosens the soil, while all the frustrations of my life seem to break apart and become less significant as well.

There's just something so comforting to me about drawing out the plans for my 20 ft x 30 ft little piece of heaven. Choosing where to put all of my favorites, and adding in a few new and different things each year makes me feel that all is right with the world. There are no politics involved in planting a tomato. And no arguing or discord is going to sprout between my green beans. Everything is orderly and simple in the garden. Just like my grandma.

I decided to plant my first garden just a few years after moving into our house. My mother had carried on the family tradition ever since Grandma died in 1998. But once I'd put down my own roots with a husband, a couple children and a home, I knew it was time to add my little branch to the family gardening legacy.

Up to that point, my mother and I had already canned green beans and black-eyed peas when we could find a bushel or two to pick. I could confidently use the pressure cooker, but I just had never grown anything in a garden by myself.  Unfortunately, the necessity outweighed the desire because peas were hard to come by. I'd spent many hours running through the pea patches as a child and helping my grandma weed her garden, but actually sowing the seeds myself was new territory.

Just planting some of the basics that I needed for canning was my safest bet those first few years. Green beans, black-eyed peas, squash, zucchini, okra and tomatoes were, and still are, my primary concern. I didn't feel very adventurous in the beginning because I wanted so desperately to do it right. But I quickly learned why my grandmother loved hers so much. There's nothing like growing something in the dirt and sitting down to eat it for dinner.

Once I got the hang of it, I started cultivating a love for trying new varieties of plants. Over the years I've planted cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, eggplant, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, innumerable peppers and, this year, I decided to try broccoli. I know Grandma would be so proud of me!

The simplicity of spending uninterrupted hours digging in the dirt and pulling weeds provides more therapy than any psychologist ever could. There's such serenity in the middle of a garden. No matter what troubles worm their way into my day, I can find peace and happiness in my garden.

As my daughters got old enough, they began helping as well. The minute the weather warms up enough to be outside, the girls start asking about when we will plant the garden. (We won't talk about how much time they spend helping pull weeds. That part is definitely a solitary activity assigned to me.)

To this day, my 14-year-old, Sadie, recites "one for me, one for thee and one for the good Lord" as she places 3 seeds in each hole. Her love for gardening has grown as fast as she has over the years.  Our goal is to become Master Gardeners before she graduates high school. I picture my grandmother laughing with joy at Sadie's enthusiasm while saying, "Ohhh me" because she too taught her daughters the value of a good vegetable garden.

It's so rewarding to pick the fruits of my labor and be able to can them too. Using Grandma's Ball Canning Book and her pressure cookers, the girls and I set to work putting up as many of those beans and peas as possible to sustain our family's appetite for them until the next summer. (I only have to call my mother about 5 times each year with questions about what I'm doing. I'd say that is better than the 500 times I called her those first few years.) And by fall, my nostalgia for all things gardening has withered along with the plants. I gladly wash my garden gloves, take off my old, crusty tennis shoes and say a little prayer of thanks that I was given the chance to reminisce and relive memories of summers with Grandma.

How incredibly blessed I feel to have a hobby that not only brings me joy, but also keeps my precious grandmother's memory alive as well.

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