Wed 28 Jul 2010
in the backyard, there is a box. six feet by three, two feet deep. in it, a jungle.
i eye it nervously.
last spring, when Dave’s father built these garden boxes for us and delivered them, Dave told Oscar we’d grow lettuce, and tomatoes, and wax beans. and cucumbers. oh, the cucumbers, he promised. visions of pickles danced in his head, all crunchy and tart. i saw them. i could almost taste them.
but i sensed a problem. i like to identify problems.
my inner Lisa Simpson leapt up and waved her hand. brightly, i said, are the boxes deep enough for cucumbers?
my inner Lisa Simpson, it seems, is a closet Chrissy Snow. Dave and his dad didn’t stop laughing for weeks. they are still prone to fits of braying at my expense.
apparently, cucumbers are not a root vegetable. well, ahem.
i was not born to this harvest of bounty from land, not even from little backyard boxes.
the garden has grown rife with tomato plants. a pea shoot towers over me. cucumber leaves the size of my head are totally trying to block the poor carrots from the sun. the whole box oozes with lusty obscenity, an overflowing pile of procreation curling in over itself. tendrils reaching out to clasp and claim whatever comes near.
i call it Audrey. i do not get too close.
waiting for our harvest, i pull storebought peas and wax beans from my fridge and wonder at the fur on them. didn’t we buy those last week? from the Farmer’s Market? shouldn’t they still be good five days later?
i think i understand why people eat out of cans. real food is too wild for me.
i am aware that i am silly, feeling burdened by the luxury of excess. having enough food that i do not need to worry, enough that things can get lost in my fridge, ought to be something i celebrate. but instead, i happen upon the wilted spinach and smack! there i am, nursing a sore arse at the bottom of the depths of despair.
when my vegetables die unconsumed, i feel panicky, incompetent, and wracked with guilt.
i didn’t grow up like this. food was purchased, good food, and used. eaten. diligently. there was no room for the kind of casual rotting that takes place in my home. poverty sat on the doorstep. good stewardship of what we had was the highest source of pride.
waste was a sin on par with baby smuggling.
it occurs to me, looking out the back door, that the fact that we didn’t grow food is damn near criminal. my mother and i rented, yes, but through my high school years we had a duplex with a yard. why not? i don’t know. my grandmother grew tomatoes, and we tried one year, but just the one. literacies and time and perceptions of value: all the hundred other complex reasons the poor stay poor, and why urban poverty – even in a small town – is different from rural poverty.
but i suspect the primary reason why we never grew much more than an African violet was that my mother, like me, is secretly appalled at the sheer fecundity and tangle of garden-hood.
it’s not Puritanism, or prudishness, even if i did recently threaten to start an @ShitMyMomSays Twitter account and tell the world she irons her underwear. (and it looks very nice, mom).
it’s loss of control. i know this, because i am coming with age to realize that i am exactly like my mother. only worse. because her coping mechanisms have always made sense within the strictures of her life and reality.
they do not make sense in mine. they leave me overwhelmed by food. by the capacity for rot. by overgrowth. by others.
more than anything else, i did not grow up learning to live with, uh, others. as in other living things. no cats in the house. no dogs. no siblings. no garden. no father. one house plant and a short-lived fish named Ernie.
we were the model of zen minimalism, our lives a proud and carefully stacked Andy Warhol painting, all Campbell’s soup. which we ate to the last drop.
the most abiding legacy of this careful, measured childhood is that i do not scale well. i am most comfortable with small measures. with just enough. with direct control. when i am the only one putting food in the fridge, and the one doling out the meals, no matter for how many, i can be the most virtuously economical person alive. it’s how i got through college. i lived on $100, maximum, a month, after rent and utilities. i lived fine.
but now i live with another adult, one who trails beer caps around the house like an overgrown Hansel, and who has the temerity to buy produce and stuff it at the back of the fridge sometimes. who plants gardens. who procreated these two lovely, messy children with me. and not one of them seems to care that there are seven peas at risk of rotting before we eat them.
i overlearned the lessons of my childhood.
what about the starving Armenians? the inside of my head shouts in alarm, wringing its metaphorical hands. then it realizes whether i eat the peas or not, they’re not making it to Armenia. and they’re certainly not time-traveling.
and so i give thanks – deep, genuine, soul-rocked thanks – for this harvest of bounty that i live on a daily basis. even if it is more than i can chew.
and then i close the door to the backyard and i line up all the produce in the fridge until i can breathe again.
teach me, wise ones. do you have garden stories of your own? does food go bad in your fridge? tell me how to love the chaos and growth and fecundity and dirt. i’m getting there, but i could use a guide or two. otherwise, Jamie Oliver’s gonna come and beat me up.