Mom's Garden

In later years, before her last tiller disappeared and cancer from 50 years of smoking reduced her to large tennis shoes and large ears with her shrinking body in between, Mom regularly put on shorts atop pantyhose atop varicose veins and tilled the garden. She allowed no weeds to grow between rows, none within sucking distance of the nutrients her vegetables consumed from the rich alluvium left by countless floods of the nearby creek, augmented by 5-10-10 fertilizer, the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium of her preferred blend.

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Mom kept the tiller among nearby trees—pin oaks, pines, sycamores, and poplars—where she cranked it and directed its twisting tines out to the rows of corns, beans, peas, potatoes, squash, okra, and tomatoes. Neighbors who passed on the nearby road admired the garden’s order, with no grass, leaves, nor organic matter left between rows.

But a tiller has no key. Perhaps she should have locked it, chained it to a tree. But when someone stole it, she said, “Fuck it,” or the Baptist equivalent after a life of swearing off swearing. She turned over the garden to an ex-con who needed community-service hours, a former student at the school where she was once secretary. He mowed her yard and endeared himself to her. As her memories faded, he replaced her only son.  Once her golden boy, her son had become her jailer in a locked memory-care unit of assisted living.

 

- Dale Easley is a Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Dubuque, which he joined in 2005 after 15 years at the University of New Orleans. He has been a volunteer math teacher in Kenya, a volunteer working on water wells in Haiti, and a Fulbright Fellow in Qatar. His interests include environmental geology, statistics, and the intersection of science and culture. Currently, he focuses upon storytelling in science. You can visit his blog here.

Preserving Time

Perfect sun-warmed peaches fill baskets slung on my arm in August. A recipe from my mother reads “Pfirsiche,” but I hardly need it. That day, my granddaughter fetches the folded paper. She is a struwwelpeter, a messy child, whose hair catches on the fly paper hanging in the barn. She needs taming, and I start with teaching her to preserve peaches.

I tie an apron behind my neck, as we begin putting time in a bottle.  We wash a dozen quart-size jars with Ivory liquid in the porcelain sink. Rainbow bubbles escape into the sunlight streaming through the wavy glass of the farmhouse windows. Her smooth young hands—a contrast to my wrinkled ones—reach out to catch them.

 The author's grandmother and great-grandmother, picking peaches in 1943

The author's grandmother and great-grandmother, picking peaches in 1943

Dropping the clean glass into pots of boiling water with tongs, I set the timer to twenty. I show her how to schnibble with a paring knife, and she fills a red enamel bowl to the brim, my clever Schnookzie.

Add the zucker and the salz, I say, teaching her German as we cook—two-cups per two- cups per bowlful. Easy. I want her to remember. She rolls lemons under her palm, halves them, squeezes out the juice. Mixing everything together with my hands, I tell her, these will be the best tools in your kitchen. I sprinkle in ein kleines of vanilla, which we both pronounce a klex into the filled jars.  Sealing the lids, I say, wait for the magic.  Peng! go the tops, and she laughs.

- Ryder Ziebarth is a writer, a gardener and a mother, who lives on a hay farm in Central New Jersey where her daughter is fifth generation. Ryder received her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2016 and has been published in Brevity, The New York Times, N Magazine and is currently working on a memoir about her life on Cedar Ridge Farm.

Caring for Cut Roses

You are not my Grandmother. You are kind. My Uncle's mom. 

We are in South Texas. You and your amiable husband snow bird here, in this mobile home retirement park, just above the border. 

My only Grandmother is thorny, cruel; pitting her daughters against each other, stepping back as victim. I'm a child. I can see this. 

I don't know how to do the things my mom and Grandmother do well--sew, cook, create. When I want to learn, I'm told no. It would be too messy. You're in the way. Just go. These are some of the familial secrets kept for the few, to hold over the rest. 'Look at all of this I did. Look at all this I made. By myself.' 

 Image via the author

Image via the author

On this trip, you ask me to help you pick flowers--fragrant tea roses. We go outside after dinner. You let me cut them--vivid magenta and orange blooms. You let me hold and carry them, guiding me. When we go inside, you show me how to: 

run warm water
fill a sink or a bowl
submerge stems
trim at an angle under water, above a node
small slit the stem to force water up the bloom
transfer to vase, arrange
drop a penny in

They'll last longer. 

 Image via the author

Image via the author

You are patient, teaching, content to be with me. 

Each trailer plot has a citrus tree growing on it. Each tree is in bloom. I fall asleep breathing in grapefruit, tangerine. It's Easter. 

We never meet again.

- Jill McKenna Reed stewards bees, helps beekeepers, and writes poems in Portland, Oregon. Her poems have appeared in Vinyl Poetry & Prose, thethepoetry, Gobshite Quarterly and others. She's native to Chicagoland.

How to Grow and Preserve a Garden

Don’t worry overmuch about details. Consult a grandchild about where you should put the garden, and then dig up the lawn wherever they point. Pretty much if you till the ground and throw some seeds in and make sure it gets watered, things will grow. You will have to do the tilling, but little kids like to help plant seeds. Show a grandchild how to do the first one and then let them do the rest however they want. If they get bored and abandon the job, you can finish it.

The best way to water is the beer method: stand out there watering for as long as it takes you to drink a beer while the child swings on the rope swing. When your beer is done, or the child wants to do something else, you are done watering.

Harvest when there are too many strawberries for the child to keep up with by eating them straight from the vine. For veggies, harvest whenever. If several are ripe together, then you can preserve them.

People worry about canning, but really the process is pretty easy. It’s okay if your kitchen is dirty as long as the jars are clean. Boil the jars in a stock pot while you are cooking the preserves. For the preserves, measurements can be approximate; let a grandchild do the measuring, but don’t let them stir the preserves if they are young, lest they burn themselves. They can help transfer the hot preserves to the jars if they are old enough and carefully supervised. Details like head space and pretty labels don’t matter; if the jar is 2/3rds full, it will be fine. Process the jars in the stock pot and then take them out and line them up on the counter. Draw your grandchild’s attention to the popping sound as each jar seals.

Give the preserves to your children: the grandchild’s parents, aunts, uncles. The labels can read “cranberry something” or “corn peppers onions.” A general idea of what the jars contain is fine.

Months after you die, your children will open the jars, and you will be able to feed them again.

 

- Tedra Osell is a freelance writer and editor who lives in California with her precocious son and a bitey cat. She used to be a famous blogger and a non-famous English professor. Her father died of pancreatic cancer this spring.

Planting the Future

Each spring I plant trees on my land. My Dad taught me. Before he died, after 66 years on his Minnesota farm, he planted at least 150,000 trees. Any patch of prairie ground too small or steep for raising corn and soybeans became a grove of oaks and pines. This is how he taught me about my duty to future generations. 

My first lesson came one April morning when I was about eight. He carried the seedlings – 15 inches high – packed in a box of damp sphagnum moss, and I carried the spade. 

“Watch me,” Dad said, using the spade to open a narrow slit in the sod. “Slip the roots into the hole and spread them out. Use your foot to press the dirt against the roots. Now, you try it,” he said, making another slit. “If pine roots dry out, the seedling will die. So be quick.” 

After I planted a couple trees, he left me with the seedlings and went ahead to make more slits. That was the beginning of our plantings. Those pines are now 64 years old and 40 feet tall. They may grow for another 150 years and reach 100 feet. Dad planted trees for future generations. Now, whenever I plant, I hear his words: “Always leave the world better than you find it.” The lesson has stuck, along with a love of trees. Someday, people I’ll never meet will enjoy my trees.   

 

When R. Newell Searle isn’t planting trees, he is an advocate for immigrants, teaches English in Oaxaca, Mexico, and writes. He is the author of Saving Quetico-Superior, A Land Set Apart, a dozen articles on the nature and social history of Minnesota, and has just completed a memoir on becoming bilingual at the age of 65.  

How to Grow Onions

Wear navy blue coveralls when you plant onions. They will have the earthy, oaky smell of the distillery where you are a cooper. For your granddaughter that will become the smell of her childhood. In fact you will wear these for all manual activities. Most other times you will wear a shirt and tie. And my, you will be handsome.

Smile with your fuzzy, black curls billowing in the wind as you explain the process to your four-year-old apprentice. She will look up at you with wide eyes and marvel at your endless knowledge.

Make the holes for the onions by pressing into the fertile earth with your strong, hard-working fingers and instruct your eager assistant to drop a single bulb upright into each nest.

The Scottish rain will help them on their way. Spend as much time in the garden as you do in the house, tending to everything outdoors with equal care. Your garden will be perfect.

When the onions are ready share them with family and neighbours. In fact you will give and share for many years in many ways.

In the days before your passing be sure to take your now-grown granddaughter’s hand in yours and remind her of these rules. Tell her how her company pleased you as you planted those vegetables and remind her how well she listened. Tell her how perfectly she positioned each bulb. And tell her how much you love her. Because you didn’t just teach her how to grow onions. You also taught her to love.


In the last five years Donna Richardson has lived in seven homes in five countries with her two children and one husband - most recently in Dubai. She spends much of her time lost in the desert and drinking tea. 

Greywater

Don’t let Dad water the plants—there’s a specific way it’s best done he doesn’t understand. No matter how tired your lungs may be, how crowded with tumor and pooling with fluid, do it yourself.

Those huge blue barrels—the kind you don’t have to buy if you keep an eye out while driving by run-down truck yards at night—you’ll have one of those sawed in half, sitting under the carport gutter already. It’s Florida, so the barrel is always full. Don’t mind the mildew; the plants won’t.

 photo by the author

photo by the author

Plunge a bucket in, pull. If the two-gallon weight is too much, let it sink. Bring it back up sideways so half spills out as it surfaces.

Start behind the shed: pineapple and tomato vine, basil and mint.

Refill the bucket, maybe less than half this time—the patio is a longer walk.

Pour out over caladium and peace lily. Sit on the swing, catch your breath before returning for the chenille. Don’t ask for help, and don’t accept it. Ignore the hose.

Refill outside, catch your breath. Finish the job. Be thankful for all the old rain, for the barrel it fills as quickly as you empty it.

No need to use of your own what God’s already given—you would say this if you were the type of mother who explains. Better to leave your children to figure out the why themselves, have something new to learn from you when you’re gone.


- Bryce Emley is a freelance writer and MFA student at NC State. His work can be found in Best American Experimental Writing 2015Prairie SchoonerMid-American ReviewYour Impossible Voice, etc., and he serves as Poetry Editor of Raleigh Review

Growing Avocados Like Asa

Cut carefully around your avocado, longways. Twist to separate and spoon out half the insides. Spread onto toast and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Over the next twelve hours, the other half will brown. You can't bring yourself to eat it so you peel away the gummy, dried exterior, pry loose the pit and toss the rest with regret. Clean the pit gently with warm water. 

Reach into the spice cabinet for the twenty year old box of toothpicks you stole from your grandparents' house and will never empty. (Your sister will, though, and store it, flattened, between photos of you at her first birthday party.) Pierce the pit with three toothpicks spread equidistantly, careful not to snap these tiny supports in half. During rainy months they'll bend on insertion and you will say to no one, "oh, crumb."

 The author at her first birthday, with brother Asa, age 13.

The author at her first birthday, with brother Asa, age 13.

Suspended in a half-full cup of water, the pit sprouts roots and stem if you shuttle it from sunbeam to sunbeam. 

Eat half an avocado on toast once a week. 

Leggy, an undeniable eyesore, their roots will circle the bottoms of jam jars and promotional glasses from The Spaghetti Factory. Change the water weekly but never plant a single one.

-Stefanie Le Jeunesse

How Does Your Garden Grow

How to nurture blowsy summer roses:

You will need your retirement years to do this right.

            This is because you will have a garden only after toiling at your school administration job for thirty five years, after paying your mortgage in hiccupping installments.

            By then you have mornings and late afternoons free to prudently crack open the soil and knead the earth, letting in just enough air for the roots. Not so much that the top crust washes off with the first summer rains. The scent of earth and rainwater shouldn’t be a warning.

            Your granddaughter has her uses. Get her a watering can right for her size; a real one would be as tall as she is. Sternly direct her to drizzle lightly over the slippery dark green leaves before breakfast.  Order her to stay out of the midday sun. Be resigned when she doesn’t.

 the author's sister

the author's sister

            The secret is the timely application of fresh manure. Press some onto the dead heads in neat small handfuls. Spread the rest in the flower beds. Wave the plastic bag of compact cowpats at your granddaughter, and let the smell leak into her nostrils. Smirk when telling her what it is. Inform her that there are people who drink urine for good health.

            The birth of new buds is slow. The blooming, slow, slow, slow. Then in two days a sudden burst: your extravagant roses spill over with fragrance, their velvety petals flutter in tender flirtation with the breeze.

            Then, the flippant petals fall away; the roses, in threes and twos, sag.

            It will then be time for your granddaughter to leave the garden. It will soon be time for you.

 

Sanam Amin is a writer and journalist currently based in Thailand. She is also secretly the fifth ninja turtle, and has probably saved your life at least twice. When not fighting crime, she uses her spare time to write stories.