Mom’s Law: Growing a Mother-daughter Bond in a Countryside Garden Patch
This green thumb knack didn’t appear once I became a responsible adult.
It wasn’t one of those items we check off our list once buying a house and resolving to wear age-appropriate clothing when going to the grocery store. I didn’t wake up one day and think, “Hey, you know what would make me feel more like an adult today?” then proceed to build a couple of garden beds and get on with it.
Instead, gardening was thrust upon me the same way brushing teeth or washing hands becomes gospel to the children we raise. From the time I was tiny, perhaps, 5 or 6 years old, I remember pulling weeds from our little townhouse’s front yard.
There I’d be, cutting perfectly uniformed grass with my bright orange Fisher-price scissors while the rumble of a mower shook the ground on the other side of the yard.
Not long after that, my family moved to an acreage, and that is when the real work began.
I am 14 years old and slurrily telling my friend, Mike, to drop me off at the end of the laneway.
“I’ll just say I walked home on the tracks,” I tell him. My parents are stricter with drinking and partying than many of my in-town friends so getting caught hitching a ride home with an eighteen-year-old dude that they don’t know, doesn’t seem like the smartest idea. Of course, the smell of booze wafting off my tongue does not occur to me.
Our driveway is long. So long that from the main gravel road our house is not visible. This seems like a safe place to begin. Hopefully, I will walk off some of the inebriation and achieve sobriety by the time I reach my house. At the same moment, I am thinking about how nice it would be to have a red solo cup full of peach schnapps for this precarious trek.
“Whatever you say, hope they aren’t too hard on ya,” Mike says while laughing. He doesn’t have to worry about things like curfews and underage drinking.
Dad is downing his coffee at our four-seater kitchen table, leaning back in one of the brown faux-leather rolly chairs. It creaks each time he shifts his weight. As I attempt to walk past him casually — as though I haven’t just stumbled into the house — his eyes dart up and meet mine.
“Mom’s in the garden,” he says, slurping his coffee and leaving a nice long pause between us.
“Um, okay,” I reply, feigning confusion.
It’s already 25 above outside, and it’s not even 6 AM. Why do my parents have to be early risers? Why do they have to be so damn creative in my punishments? Why can’t I just get grounded like everybody else my age?
Sheepishly, I make my way out to our enormous vegetable patch. Really, it’s not a patch but more of an arena. Everything from winter squash to climbing peas, strawberries, and watermelon grows in this thing.
Mom is adamant that carrots love tomatoes, and green beans can go nowhere near the lettuce lest they will attract those pesky white moths that eat up every green leafy substance in their path.
It is her hat I see first. A wide-brimmed straw atrocity that she has always worn when working in her garden. It is more like a sombrero than a sun hat — it’s just her style. She’s got her kneeling pad out and another, less effective one beside her.
“Hey Mom, Dad said you wanted to see me?”
“Jesus, Lindsay, you smell like a brewery.” She doesn’t look up when she says this; instead, she continues to yank weeds from the ground. I think she is imagining me as those weeds and hopelessly trying to pull out all the bad ones.
There is no point in arguing. I am coherent enough to know that.
“Did you want me to go shower first before I start?” I ask, hopefully. Maybe then I could catch a few Zzz while the warm well water runs over my boozy body.
“Nope. Get your butt over here, grab the mat and a bucket and go start on the beets.”
Mom does not believe in rototilling the rows. She says that it only re-roots the weeds in greater quantity. So it is up to us to handpick all of the growth that shouldn’t be there.
Despite the gruelling heat, there is an iciness to our weeding this morning. Iciness as in, Mom is angry. We have been through this same thing before. Ever since I decided that drinking and smoking is something that interests me to no end, the garden seems to be my second home.
I’m like an old dog who cannot learn these new tricks. Tricks such as not getting caught when sneaking out of the house and attending parties. I keep doing, and the ‘rents keep catching on.
What my parents don’t know is that I love the garden.
Not the heat. Not the fact that I may well vomit each time the dog, Prince, sidles up beside me and tries to stick his curious nose into my alcohol-sodden mouth. I don’t love how the sun makes my head pound harder, and as Mom sees me waning, she chucks a bottle of water at me and says to drink because she doesn’t want me to get even more dehydrated than I already am. I’m not a fan of any of these exterior things.
What I love is the feeling of the dirt on my fingers. The smell of soil and dewy chlorophyll as I rummage up the topsoil before me. I feel at home with a trowel in my hand, and I can use it expertly. Despite my exhaustion, I am satisfied by the end of our morning, when the garden is clean and prospering.
We will wait to water because watering the garden in this extreme heat shocks the plants. Mom thanks me for my help and tells me to go to bed.
Later, there will be more work to do. She will wake me up this afternoon, once the sun falls from its zenith, and it will be my job to haul countless watering cans to and from our various rain barrels. We don’t use the hose, because the cold water will, again, shock the precious flora — Mom’s Law.
I will pick a bucket of peas for dinner and shell them while sitting in the shade of the greenhouse with the dog by my side. I’ll harvest some lettuce and wash it, making sure there are no tiny cream-coloured slugs in the hearts of the heads. I’ll enjoy dinner this evening just a little more because of the extra work I’ve contributed. Although, I will not admit this insight to anyone.
Fast forward twenty years, and I am once again plunging my fingers into the earth.
I’m considering how to stake the tomato plants while simultaneously crafting a makeshift fence out of chicken wire so that the damn cat from next door might get the hint that these beds are not her litter boxes.
It’s been a hard week. The kids are giving me grief, as in, making me want to hide in the bathroom with a bin of Ben & Jerry’s for the foreseeable future. They are relentless in their hounding, these kids.
They don’t see me as a human being but a feeding machine that must shower them with constant praise and acclaim. Most of the time, I don’t mind, because, in truth, I do think they are amazing. This might be because of our shared genealogy. Or the fact that I am, in part, responsible for said awesomeness.
However, sometimes, even mothers need some time to decompress. So instead of a bathtub date with Ben & Jerry, I retreat to the backyard.
With a faded green kneeling pad, I set out to the strawberry patch.
The runners require thinning, they’ve somehow grown rampant overnight. Maybe I’ll give some to my neighbour, Ethel, who was admiring our large patch a few weeks ago. Brownie points for good neighbouring.
The yard is small, and in the winter months, when the snow cover conceals our hard work, it isn’t much to look at. The fence is old and wooden, with white paint chipping off. But when the thaw comes, and the spring green sprouts of new life appear, almost magically, this place transforms.
Scarlet Running Beans grows up wooden lattice over the outdoor sitting area, adjacent to the vertical garden my husband built us last summer. There I grow various herbs and marigolds to keep away the black flies and mosquitoes while we eat barbequed chicken breasts with fresh garden salads.
The beds are overflowing with growth by mid-July, just as they always are at this time of the year. We don’t own a water barrel, and Mom’s Law glides over me as I adjust the nozzle to give the plants a light spray.
But, as all children do, I’ve grown and created my own Mom’s Law in regards to life and gardening — gently shifting certain ideals.
I’ve tweaked a few things. I lean more toward exciting patterns and kitschy garden gnomes. In comparison, Mom is a fan of huge, showy presentation— accentuating nature’s gifts. An entire field of Gerber Daisies. A laneway lined in nothing but poppies. I don’t have the patience for this type of gardening. But her gardens have always been on the painstakingly spectacular side.
I haphazardly craft a tomato fence and pray it holds up against my feline foes. I casually mention to my lovely neighbour about her lurking kitties, while gifting her my extra strawberry runners. The grass is trimmed, and the plants hose-watered.
Now it is my favourite part. To sit in the shade of my creation and appreciate the work. This is one part of Mom’s Law I’ve held on to, all these years later.
The sweat beads off this over-tired body. Mom has just told me to go to bed, and as I turn to leave, she says, “Wait, sit and have some water with me.”
We plop down on the grassy knoll that leads to the garden plot. To our backs are Dad’s work trucks (gravel and water haulers). In front of us is a patch of earth that has been worked by hand and grown from seed. Dark green vines, squash and marigold borders spill over the garden’s edges onto freshly mown grass. Beyond the patch is a rolling field and rail line with a dense forest backdrop. If I were ever going to use the word bucolic, it would be now.
Right now would be the perfect moment to exchange some kind of heart to heart with Mom. Maybe tell her about my life or ask her about hers. The scene calls for something; at least if this were some sort of after-school special, I’m sure it would.
With water bottles warmed and skin reddening from the sun, I take a glance at the woman beside me. I wonder if this will be a moment to hang on to for years afterward, or if it will flit away like the delicate feathers of a dandelion gone to seed.
Somehow, this seems more fitting, the silence that is. So instead of mucking up the moment with gooey words and sentiments, we sit quietly, appreciating our veggie patch paradise.
First published on Vocal Media.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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