Thursday, February 17, 2011

earth mother

Crouched in the dirt, her sandals fill my vision. Thin, dainty straps crisscross above painted toes. She's singing softly, but her sandals have all of my attention. They belong with a fancy dress, worn for evening out in the city. They ought to be stepping out of a fancy powder blue convertible. They ought to be walking beside a gentleman who offers an ermine boa to match, and takes those sandals down to the opera house. I imagine one sandal cocked out into the air as she crosses her legs under her dress, her hair smoothed into the waves that became popular around the time of the War, when she was just out of high school; fine earrings, a hint of lipstick, like a moviestar. Such a beautiful, kind woman deserves to be taken out to all of the places where I imagine those sandals.

Instead, they step carefully among the rows of carrots and spearmint. I follow close behind. She moves my small hands from the budding vegetables to the weeds, without breaking her song for an explanation. I draw designs in the dirt with a stick, and reach up to brush the dirt from her marvelous sandals. She smooths the hair on the top of my head, smiling as she sings. When we reach the end of the row, a thorny patch of mixed berries pokes up from behind a green plastic barricade. Inside, raspberry bushes aren't quite ready for picking yet, but the strawberries are. She hands me one, and points at another that is just becoming ripe.

I put the whole thing into my mouth, chewing thoughtfully. So much juice and flavor. Tastes better than any candy treat, and has more meaning to me. I can't have strawberries all of the time, but only now, at this time of year, when they burst forth from their little green-fenced bed. And they didn't come from some far away place; they came from here. My grandmother grew them, on this patch of land behind the house her husband built, next door to the house she in which she was born.

As more years go by, it's almost painful to recall how much those days in the garden meant to me. At the time, the edible fruits of our labor wasn't important to me. I wish now that I'd spent more time learning what was planted when, and where, and how to care for it. But I will never forget the taste, and the songs I learned by osmosis, and the attention paid just to me, as we worked together in the dirt.