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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gardening for life

I want to talk about my mom (pardon me if I take time out to bawl in my keyboard from time to time)

My mom died when I was 11 years old from a brain aneurysm it was shocking it was horrible and it is one of those defining moments in ones life.

Mom was a gardener. she grew the most fabulous gardens. My siblings and I joke that mom could take a dead dried out twig and make it sprout. We are not far from the truth that woman could make anything grow.

Her garden was magical. Flowers of all kinds many obtained from her borrowing cuttings from places she visited.

She spent hours every day spring summer and fall in her garden it was her passion part of her life. and so it became a part of our lives.

My older sister has a garden probably most similar to mom's garden wild flowers , things that attract butterflies and hummingbirds and bees.

One of my brothers his is a happy combo of vegetable and flowers

and mine is ..well undefined because it is never finished

(my sibs that garden have been at their gardens for a longer time than I have)

Now if that has not confused you I will give you family history

My mom was a coal miners daughter. literally. She was the youngest of many many kids (I think 8 I forget)
Her family moved from coal town to coal town where ever there was work. Mom BTW was born in 1935 she was a "change baby" (meaning she was born late in my grandma's life)

Mom did not talk much to me about her childhood. Parts of it I know now were too much to tell such a small child (and I was a babied baby)

However I know these things that I have gleaned from conversations with siblings and my Dad and other relatives over the years.

I know mom never wanted to grow any food in her garden. I asked her why once she said "we don't have to" to her growing food meant poverty. it was a reminder of times when she did not have anything to eat.

My sister told me that grandma kept chickens in her front yard. my sister remembers being in the yard with the chickens (kind of a kid and chicken pen LOL) and she remembers grandpa coming home from hunting with nothing in his hands but his gun and yelling at the back of the house and then Grandma coming out to the chicken yard and strangling a chicken on her way back into the house and that was dinner.

Being at the mercy of the elements of the landlord at the mercy of animals and the dirt on the rented land. What if that mine dried up or if there was no work in the area then it meant get off the land even if you just planted it all

It was a brutal life

Mom knew how to can food she knew how to make bread and how to cook without having tons of gadgets and measuring cups(she used her hands)

As a children my older siblings knew a different woman that I knew (there is 21 years age difference between the oldest of us and the youngest) They knew a volatile strong tough woman who could do anything and often did to survive. she went berry picking on the road sides got her kids wild vegetables and made bread and any number of things that she could get in anyway possible.

again it was a brutal life.

She met and married my Dad (mom was married more than once) they had my older brother and Dad finished college and got a great job and they moved up to the middle class.

Then I was born. The Wonder bread generation. it was the 1970's a hippy dippy time but mom was not all about that. Mom liked wonder bread sure it tasted like sugar but she did not have to work to give me a sandwich. she did not have to make the jelly herself she did not have to make the bread herself it was like discovering running water inside a house (and yes she lived in houses without running water)

So she was tired of the work and the hardship she still cooked dinner every night and she gardened but now she gardened for her pleasure and for the love of digging the dirt

As far as I know and remember she grew no herbs no fruits nothing of what we would consider "useful" but for her the garden was where her soul was fed.

(now I am crying) Mom loved her garden I can still see her every morning with her coffee on a warm day looking at the changes that happened every night and I remember walking with her around our small yard (remember I lived in the city) I remember her telling me the names of the plants and the things that we could do to them and if anything was wrong what had to be done.

I do remember that for a couple years we tried some vegetables I wanted Corn so we grew some corn. it was awful I wanted it too early and mom let me pick it to eat it it was terrible I know she said well now you learned something. and I remember she had tomatoes (mom loved fried green tomatoes) I remember these bugs on her tomatoes and her swearing and getting all mad and coming out with a coffee can filled with something and her picking them and smashing the bug in her hand and saying "take that you little f ----r!" (mom swore a LOT when she gardened LOL) and she picked the rest of them off and tossed them into the can

I remember on vacations mom liked to go for walks we always vacationed at our property near WI Dells and mom enjoyed going into abandoned buildings looking for treasures. I remember listening to her tell me about the wild flowers.

and the black eyed Susan's and I would argue with her about their name "mommy they are brown eyed Susan's! just like me"

So you can see now why that information has been lost to many generations
lots of women like my mom probably did not want to teach their daughters these skills because they were hopeful that those skills would never have to become a necessity for their girls. The work the drudgery and the pain if it all failed.

I am self taught. I learned how to garden by my own trial and error I learned how to sew the same way. For canning I am going to rely on a class at the local health food store LOL. I am more hopeful I am hopeful that teaching these things to others and learning these skills will not only help us to suppliment what we need but may someday take over. I know it is work I know it is hard. but it is a work that can be enjoyable. I know that if I had to rely on this years garden to help my family survive the winter I would be singing a different tune but I also know that given time I can get a garden set up that will indeed last us a good long time.


fearlesschef said...

While I was reading this, I had to think back to my own mother, who is also deceased. Her mother had grown up a first generation imagrint from Italy and the 2 oldest of 10 children. My Great-Nonnie housed all 10 of those children and her husband and self in a 2 bedroom home. She had no backyard, she had a garden. She grew everything that one could possibly imagine growing in Ohio and then some. She cooked and canned and prepared for the winter. She took care of her family the way her mother taught her: by the sweat of her brow and the love in her heart.

My Nonnie was ashamed of the hard life she had led. She planted nothing and canned nothing and prepared for nothing. She wanted the "American dream". Now I know, that the wonderful tomato sauce that she made, came from a can. I know now that she didn't bake her own bread, she warmed the loaves from Kroger up in the oven. And my mother wanted none of that.

My mother ate only organic food. We were vegetarians for 13 years. Our backyard was only 50 of the actual lot since the rest was planted up. She had fruit trees and grape vines and strawberry plants nestled into the regular landscaping. My mother learned to use the garden to her advantage when my dad didn't have a job. infact, I can recall a number of times her running after neighborhood kids brandishing a wooden spoon... feeling just like Mr. MacGregor.

I strayed briefly from this lifestyle, but I am proud to say, that today, I am even more self-sufficient than my mother. I am more and more like my Great-Nonnie. The only thing left is for me to carry a spring of basil around in my apron pocket! And hope that I have a daughter who embraces the earth and all it's benefits like I do.

Sue said...

I think it makes a different about what we associate with being self sufficient

My mom (and your grandma) associated these skills with poverty and hardship and starving times

we associate gardening with luxury and great foods and healthier choices for our families

if our garden fails sure we will be put out we will have to buy the produce needed or do without but we won't starve

my mom would tell of times when if one crop failed they could not get that item at all so if they could not scrounge one from the roadsides they did without

my Dad was Catholic mom was not raised catholic so when Dad would mention giving up meat or giving up something for lent Mom would say "I already did my time and paid my dues"

I truely cannot imagine trying to survive a winter with 5 boys and being unable to feed them. I know what it is to not be able to afford say the better cut of meat and to try to come up with some meatless meals (hard for a omnivore like me) to strech the budget a bit but to know that some disease wiped out my animals and there was no other way to feed the kids ....

I hope your Basil does well enough for you carry some in your apron like your Grand Nonnie

It is womeen like that I wish I could sit around and talk with