And my sister and I spent most of each summer working in it.
The garden existed as a significant food source for our family and for my step-grandparents, who lived next door. Rows of concord grapes served as bookends, and in between, there were raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes (several varieties), peppers, corn, okra, potatoes, several kinds of squash, green beans, rhubarb, and asparagus. (I feel like I’m leaving something out.)
When something would ripen, my sister and I would help harvest and get it ready for canning or freezing.
But before that, there was the weeding. The endless weeding.
I’ve heard people say that they settle into a calm state when they weed, that the methodical pulling out of the weeds, moving to a new area, pulling more weeds, is relaxing.
And I will tell you right now that I have never, ever experienced that (I wish). I remember the heat, the bugs, the sweat, the sunburn, the bugs. The prickly okra plants. The smelly tomato plants. The bugs.
Though, it’s only fair to say, it didn’t kill me either. And now, all these years later, I actually yearn for a small (very small) garden.
We learned very well which plants were weeds, and we also knew that if we only pulled off the tops of the weeds, what was above ground, we would hear about it later. Sue would tell us time and time again that unless we pulled the weeds out by the roots, they would just grow back faster.
Today is an anniversary that I marked last year with this post. This year, it’s 30 years since we went to court so that Sue could adopt my sister and me. It’s not a day I try to remember, at all (and my sister tells me she doesn’t even think of it), but every year it still seems to cross my mind like a phantom train. Empty, invisible, loud.
One thing I realized today, though, is that this year does feel different than any year before. Changed, even, from just last year. I know that what I’ve written here about my family is the difference, as I’ve dug with bare hands through this soil of the past.
As though these things that happened to us are the weeds, and I have to spend my life trying to keep them from taking over.
And wouldn’t you know? Sue was right about one thing. It is important to pull them out by their roots. But in this case, to expose the dark underside of things that look completely different above ground.
I can’t stop these stories from reaching up through the soil, toward light, and I don’t want to. Do I wish they weren’t there? Sure. Weeding never was an easy job, in life or in metaphor.
My hands are still in the soil, and will stay there for as long as it takes. It’s past high noon, though, I know that much. The sun slides with every day, with every word, toward the place where sky seems to meet soil. And maybe one of these days – any day now – I will come to understand, without the need for a reminder, that the sky and the land are part of each other. The soil is part air, the air carries particles of dust to other fields. The moon reflects in the smallest pond.
And there’s nothing to keep me, not anymore, from flying away from this work whenever I need to, high enough that the weeds become indiscernible from a field of sweet, warm strawberries.