Summer 2014 has been the year of the garden for Keith and me out here in Sugar Valley. The rain and sun have worked perfectly together for us to have our best garden in years. Our cup runneth over with tomatoes, cucumbers, okra and green beans, with corn coming soon. It is the richest feeling in the world.
Each morning is a treasure hunt as I go out to see what the day’s harvest will bring. I pull back vines and leaves in search of the crisp cucumbers and squash, then move onto the tomato plants which are straining at the twine we wrapped around them in June. I love finding the green beans hanging at the bottom of the plants, just waiting to be pulled off. The okra is not as much fun, requiring long sleeves and a certain bravery to head into the heavy foliage, which makes me itch. I leave that to Keith as much as possible.
I was raised in the suburbs, but I was always attracted to the country life and I am blessed to live here. I love the simplicity of picking food from a plant in my yard and eating it. Working in the garden gives me such a connection to people from the past. We don’t plow with a mule and I don’t wear a bonnet and long dress, but otherwise not much has changed with growing vegetables in a hundred years. Fortunately though, I am not dependent on our garden for food over the winter. If the early frost comes or the rains don’t fall, I know that I will be able to buy what I need at the store. I can’t imagine how stressful life was in the days when the garden meant life or death.
Working in the garden makes me feel close to my family. Both of my granddaddies put in big gardens and loved to watch things grow and I think about them when I am out pulling weeds or checking the beans. My 85 year old aunt Mary Frances once stayed up all night with my mother in the hospital, then went home and planted tomatoes. My uncle Maynard loved his big garden, and was working there one March day when he fell over and died from a heart attack. Daddy loved to garden but by the time he was retired, he and Mama were living in a neighborhood with big shade trees which were not very good for vegetables. He filled his yard with impatience and azaleas instead.
In a few short weeks, I will be back to school, getting up before dark, wearing my long pants and nice shirts in place of shorts and tshirts, and being forced to be inside. I will miss the peace and quiet of my garden, the hawk who calls each morning, and the dew on my shoes as I hunt for cucumbers. The plants will soon start to shrivel up and quit bearing their treasures. As the days shorten and a few cool breezes start to blow, we will pull them up and plow them under and the fall will be here. Gardening teaches me to enjoy the bounty I have right now, because tomorrow it can be gone.
One of my favorite things from my parents’ house is a metal sign Mama gave Daddy to put out in his flower bed. It reads: “The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, one is closer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth.” I have it by my flowers at the back steps and look at it every day. I think about my daddy filling his backyard with flowers, my granddadies bringing in bushels of butterbeans and corn, and all the ones who tilled this garden before me. We are all connected by our love of getting our hands dirty and watching things grow. Just as Adam and Eve heard God walking in the garden in the cool of the morning, I hear Him rustling in the leaves and we enjoy our time together.