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.

Mom1.JPG

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.

How to Name a Daughter

Don’t rush into a name for the fetus. It’s just a bump, just a lump in your housedress that will maybe come to nothing after all: you’re not eating well, he drinks too much. The Depression has its hooks in you womb-deep.

Don’t hurry to name your baby. There’s so many of them and they die so young so often. She cries when she’s born; a good sign, a strong baby, but anything can happen.

 illustration by the author

illustration by the author


Take your time naming your toddler. You’ve lost children already; you can lose this one too. Farmer’s rules: don’t name the animals you’ll have to slaughter. Don’t name the children that die, unrecorded. 

Call your little girl Precious and Darlin and Princess. She is the youngest and could be any of those things, barefoot in the red clay dust of the yard. Eventually she will return from her first day of school – so big! – asking “Mama, what’s my name?”

Say the first thing that comes into your head.

 

- Rowan Beckett Grigsby is the less-censored less-palatable alter ego of an attorney who might want to work in this town again someday. Professional editor and graphic designer by day and professional knitter by night, she has been an Unchaste Reader, a contributor to Ask a Raging Feminist, a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee and one of BlogHer's 2017 Voices of the Year for work we consider required reading, including "How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101."   

Rowan has also told us How to Clean your Plate and How to Have Nice Things.

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.

How to Celebrate the Vernal Equinox

Plastic grass tucked in loose nests into baskets. The full moon just passed. The formica from 1964 with alternating wheels and stars in mint and sunshine. She calls us “Bewwwip!” from the back door. We run, twigs from the apple tree in our hair. “Okay now,” she says, pulling the egg from the carton’s hollow center. We stand back, hands clasped, eyes on her delicate fingers. The first stands, and she smiles. “Let’s do two.” And the second. Witchcraft. The Egg of Columbus. She rights a third.

 the author's Mama

the author's Mama

The phone rings from the grocery store. They, too, have stood their eggs at noon. Now social services. A law class. The notions department at the store downtown. Eggs stand all over town, the phone ringing. We know that eggs will stand on a Friday in February when the mourners file out into the frigid air. We know that eggs will stand when we celebrate birthdays, when the wreath we place in December collapses into wire and foam by Easter. The eggs will stand, and she quietly believes in the magic and does not, her faith another form of wit and play, the pagan inside her teasing the Catholic. We share the secret knowledge that the eggs will stand whenever we need them, but not yet. For now, it is all light and gravitational pull, all things in balance. She plucks them up from the counter and boils them for lunch, the shells cracking from the steam.

 

- Frances Badgett is a writer and editor in Bellingham, WA. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Drunken Boat, Matchbook, Smokelong Quarterly, The Atticus Review, among other places. She is the fiction editor of Contrary Magazine and editor-in-chief of a local lifestyle magazine. 

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.  

Turn Left

His patterns linger in the grass.

The first edge always carved straight down the double hill, along the side of the driveway. As soon as the span of a single blade was all that remained along the front of the lawn, we would turn left ninety degrees, running hard along the stone wall over which we jumped our toboggans in the winter, frozen butts jolting off the road below as we remembered too late to check for cars.

 “It’s a communist plot,” he’d shout over the engine as he made that first uphill turn, pushing hard against gravity. A sudden eruption of sweat would appear through his white shirt: a smiley face on his chest, though he was rarely smiling on this stretch.

 photo from the author

photo from the author

Pinecones, small wildlife, and other trespassers from the undeveloped land in between yards forced me to run ahead and pull away interloping obstacles before they found the mower. Even when I missed them, he always saw the toads, and we carried them away to safety.

Finally, atop the hill, another left-turn, flush to the hedges in front of the living room. Gram sat on the davenport shouting something nobody heard, we kept our slow progress.

Left, and left again, the spiral bloomed in the lawn. Later, I would run laps in its lanes having long forgotten the trudging and complaining I did in carving them.

As I ran, he’d go in and watch NASCAR, in later years under a blanket despite the heat, always thinner. Always turning left.

 

- Ben Jackson is majestically bearded and the single father of the coolest thirteen-year-old-girl in the history of thirteen-year-old-girls. He is also the blogger behind DadoftheDecade.com, where he writes about becoming a father under less-than-ideal circumstances. His work has appeared in WBUR’s Cognoscenti, The Legendary, The Penmen Review, 50 Word Stories, Patch Media, and anywhere else he can con editors to publish him. He lives in Massachusetts.