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.

She Says It All Without Stopping

I am sitting in the kitchen of my grandparent’s house, after school. It is 1969. Corny old fashioned things—like home remedies and mountain music—are all the rage. My grandmother tells my hippy cousin in Pennsylvania on the phone how to make her own stomach ache medicine. She says it all without stopping washing the dishes as she talks. The phone is cradled on her neck, the long green cord hanging down from the wall to where she is standing. Take your cast iron frying pan, she says, you have a cast iron one, right? I know your mother had one. Good. Get it hot, then throw in a handful of pearl barley. Yeah, just a handful.  It’s got to be pearl I don’t know why. Add a little water. Just a little. Stir it. It smokes and it stinks. Keep on adding water as the barley cooks, until the barley fries black, then you add a little more water, you know, maybe a shot glass full, stir it and pour it back into the shot glass through a clean white handkerchief. Or whatever you got over there you can use. Let it cool. Drink it. It tastes like poison, but it works good. My grandmother stops talking, turns the tap to put more hot water in the sink, then: Do you see your brother a lot? Tell him hello for me. So when are you coming down? 


Juleigh Howard-Hobson lives on a permaculture farm in the Pacific Northwest, where the home remedies she picked up from her grandmother in Greenpoint Brooklyn are still the rage. (Although, that burnt barley recipe will never be a favorite.) Her work has appeared in The First Line, Prime Number, KeyHole, The Liar’s League, Going Down Swinging, Danse Macabre, Pemmican, Sugar Mule and plenty of other places in print and in pixel. Not bad for a person who spends entire mornings moving straw bales around.