Alicia standing in front of monster Cantaloupe and Watermelon vines
Alicia pointing at Cantaloupes beginning to vine
Alicia pulling weeds from Lettuce bed
Alicia pointing at Lettuce
Alicia pointing at Petunias

The Gardening Partner

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Forever Young by Rod Stewart


Over the years (no matter where we lived) my wife and I have often planted a vegetable garden  and a flower garden in our yard. Naturally they are quite small, certainly by farm standards. Often there's not enough space for more than one 8 foot row each of lettuce, green beans, sweet corn and 6 too 8 tomato plants. Some summers we would splurge and plants some watermelons and cantaloupes.

Still, it's a big job for us, since our kids have married and have their own careers, which doesn't include city farming.

Nevertheless, gardening was basically our domain. Until, we got our gardening partner.

She is short and not very strong. But what she lacks in stature and strength, she makes up with desire and intent.

“Can I help”?  “I want to plant!” “I can do it,” our 5-year old granddaughter says, leaving her Barbie dolls and even her bicycle behind, when she knows we have a new packet of seeds.

I would usually dig up the ground (plow for you farmers) and my wife would go ahead of us and mark the distance between each hill. Our gardening partner and I would kneel in the dirt, and poke holes for the seed, our partner would count out just the right amount of seed from my outstretched palm. She dribbles three tiny kernels into each hole, while I cover them with dirt. Then we move onto the next eight-inch stretch along the row.

No gardening chore is too dirty, or too long.

At the beginning of the season, she stood toe-to-toe with us yanking up last summers dried up vines and tomato stakes.

She spent hours with us picking out rocks, aerating the soil with her rake and digging up the clumps of dandelions and weeds that always manage to invade a garden. She stood right alongside us shoveling on pounds of compost (yes, mom and dad, even manure) and fertilize.

She wants more than anything to plant and then, of course, like any other gardener, to see the seeds grow--fast.

One morning, less than an hour after we'd planted two rows of cucumber seeds, she came running from the garden into the house.

"Mamaw! You won't believe it! The cucumber growed! "she said, convinced that our newly planted seeds had instantaneously sprouted into the full-grown cucumber plant we had planted alongside the lettuce that day.

Here, in the garden, with no concerted parenting effort on our part, she is learning that anything worth doing takes time. She is learning that the sun, though occasionally too hot for comfort, is a gift. That worms and roly-polys deserve respect, also. That bad weather is not cause for moping. "It's raining!" she announced joyfully one morning, happy in her new understanding that rain doesn't just make people stay inside. It also makes gardens grow.

As parents and grandparents we have been know to intellectualize, agonize and read too many gardening books, trying to discern such things as the right, store-bought trellis for our roses to climb and the proper size flower pots for the patio. Why not just build your own with your gardening partner looking on. Since lessons learned in life are often contagious, who knows she might just become a famous architect someday.

As parents and grandparents we are also passing along wisdom even as we gain it ourselves, which is the way it was when our families farmed or had family businesses together. Children learned about life by doing important, sustained work alongside their parents. Parents learned, themselves, in the teaching.

Since our children are no longer at home our family days are not as busy as they once were. Hectic, might be a better word, especially for my wife. My job kept me on the road for most of the week but it was my wife (who also worked full time) that managed to shuttle three children to school, baseball or football practice, one to  music lessons, one to work, another to cheer leading practice, all of them to play dates here and yon. church events, the grocery store and on it went.

Our children and our love for them could have got lost in the shuffle, but thanks to lessons learned from our parents, who at times probably thought we were not paying attention, while all the time we were absorbing life's lessons by their example. We never asked why some things were done the way they were done we just figured “that’s the way it should be.” We did it because they did it and we respected them for it.

Our young gardening partner is also observing her mom and dad and her many wonderful family members. All of us and our love for her could easily get lost in the shuffle of life but, at least here in the garden, time stops for the three of us.

Alone, together, our heads bowed under the sun, we relate to one another through the dirt below our feet, the blue sky above our heads and the bees that work between us.

As our little gardening partner, and us participate, in the age old act of growing food, growing ourselves.

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