This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. You’d think, that with May Day just past, I’d be telling you a May Day story. And someday I will. But other things have been cooking in this overcooked hillbilly brain, and so I’ve wandered off, and now I’m taking you with me. This is no doubt another age-related post, but as I’m fairly age-related myself, I guess you’ll just have to bear with me.
Here’s the thing. I’ve been doing some traveling lately on various errands, not all of them health related, but some, and have found myself doing some rather lengthy stints in the car alone. Radio reception, even with all the hard work KSMU does to maintain it, is not always the best through the ups and downs of the watersheds, and so there are periods of quiet, left to one’s own thoughts.
It was in the middle of one of those periods, when taking a trip down what we’re prone to calling Memory Lane, that I suddenly realized that on this trip I was not in fact on Memory Lane, but somewhere just south of Memory Swamp, near Memory Crag, and not all that far from Memory precipice. Not a good place to end up on a chilly, cloudy day, as I discovered while driving into the desolate village of Lament.
But then I had to admit while rounding the corner from Wistful to Wisteria gone Wild that such a destination is not nearly such a bad place while driving through the Springtime Ozarks as when trying to fall back to sleep after a dream of a lost loved one, or chewing the elderly bones of resentment over someone who once promised you the moon, when they did not in fact Have the moon.
Yes, it’s true. The older you get, the more you amass collections of stuff in your memory basement to dig up and worry over at odd moments, especially when the time for doing anything that could change or better the outcome is long past.
There was that kid who broke my favorite cudgel (a knobby branch I found useful in the days of no friends at a new school, useful both as a toy and a weapon as needed). It wasn’t that he disarmed me that’s made me remember it for 60 some years, it was that he laughed about it.
Then there was the friend who betrayed a trust, and then had the nerve to die without making amends. On the opposite end and always available to chew on is my own long ago casual thoughtlessness that wounded a friend and is still unhealed. And as always, all those acts in the arrogance of youth that counted friendships less important than winning. The list goes on.
But then so does the spring day, and eventually the sun came out and I arrived home and headed out to the garden. And somewhere in the solitude of the garden, where I often go to get my hands in the reality of earth, I made my way back to the present tense, where I have landed more or less intact after my journey through regrets and remorse, I have come to make peace, if not with others, at least with myself.
It is here, I find, that other memories surface. Picking boatloads of yellow squash that my mother dredged in cornmeal and served with potatoes and okra in summer.
Walking down a country lane full of waving grasses, Queen Anne’s Lace and Black-eyed Susans to my cousin Janice’s house in hopes her mother was making what she called garden goulash, a stew of fresh tomatoes, onions, macaroni and ground beef, served with green beans with potatoes and bacon, sliced tomatoes and sweet corn.
From there it’s a short hop to the summer I helped my aunt Juanita harvest apricots and Belle of Georgia peaches from her trees in California early in the morning of another 100-degree day, biting into a peach for breakfast and having the juice pour over my chin and down my arms to the elbows. The bees loved my elbows almost as much as the peaches.
No laments can come here except for times long gone and never forgotten, times of food, friendship and an intense, heartfelt joy that springs up unannounced, like rhubarb. Many religions say the garden is as close to God’s heart as you can get. It would be hard to argue that life began anywhere else. A garden feeds you and your family. Gardens, in plural, feed the world. But they are more than a factory to fill the stomach. They also feed the soul, ease heart’s pain, and heal the weary traveler, whatever the journey, either at its end or as a stop along the road. Here, every act is an act of faith, trusting the bean to always be a bean and not a tomato, trusting the sun not to sear and the rain to be plentiful and on time, setting plants out to grow for the sheer joy of watching it happen.
And as you grow older, it is also a growing awareness that one day you may be planting fruit that someone else may harvest, and trees under whose shade you may never sit. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s our investment in the eternal, our participation in the passage of seasons. Plant. Grow. Harvest. Repeat. Good advice, for the garden and the gardener. This is Marideth Sisco, for the gardens, and the gardeners, in These Ozarks Hills.