Eating home-grown fruits and vegetables provides an undeniable sense of accomplishment.
I prefer to work outdoors in the morning, before the sun rises over the tree line and the day’s heat sets in. I wear a green-and-yellow John Deere cap that reads “Farm Iowa,” next to an outline of the state where I went to college and began my career, and where my mother grew up. She and my youngest sister sent me the cap and a similarly emblazoned sweatshirt last year as birthday gifts. Every so often I call and give them a video tour of the crops.
The tomato plants refuse to be bound by their cages and their vines have become intertwined. Their fruit has an aroma and taste superior to those stacked on grocery shelves. Along with adding flavor to our salads, and serving them with our basil leaves, tomato sandwiches are among my favorite “Southern” foods.
We have harvested romaine lettuce, kale and collards planted over the winter. I am not a fan of kale or collards, though others here like the taste.
The banana and bell peppers are coming in and, by the time this is published, the cucumbers hopefully will have appeared. The lone okra and eggplant have yielded little thus far.
I worried — rightfully, it turned out — that shade from our monstrosity of a kiwi plant would limit the raspberries. The adjacent blueberries grew in decent numbers. An especially plentiful blackberry crop has been nibbled as snacks, baked into a pie, shared with friends (one of whom made jam), and frozen for future use.
In truth, just as satisfying as consuming that produce has been watching its growth. Before planting the garden box, we turned and fertilized the soil and put down newspaper to retard the growth of weeds. We water and weed as necessary, but otherwise are pretty much hands off.
It can be more challenging to adopt a similar approach with our adult children, ages 22, 28 and 30. Learning when to offer advice and when to hold our tongues is a process. Our daughter uses a particularly colorful phrase when she feels we have stepped over her line. Her younger brothers have their ways of letting us know.
With all the love we could muster, and certainly while making our share of mistakes, we did what we could to teach our children well, and to give them both roots and wings. Now, we may delight in their successes and ache for their disappointments — without reflexively reaching out to catch them when they fall.
To varying degrees, they are “launched,” though our basement resembles a storage locker for toys, trophies, school projects, and other items that at some point must move with them or be discarded. They have heard, more than once, how I came home from work one day many years ago to discover that my parents, as they drove from Chicago to Des Moines, had deposited boxes marked with my name on the front yard, to the amusement of my housemates.
Though the recent college graduate, now learning the ins and outs of the technical side of the film business, sometimes spends the night here, the nest has become quieter. So, when we were all under one roof again on a recent weekend, the kids’ laughter and even the gibes they directed at each other were welcome sounds.
This household has endured its share of oncological challenges the past couple of years, none so much as our middle child. After a difficult year, for him and for us, he — in the parlance of cancer patients — rang the bell, ending months of chemotherapy. The best news came in June, when his doctor said that tests showed him to be in remission.
To reboot a life interrupted by disease and treatment, he moved out and relocated to another city. The lessons he has learned and the obstacles he has overcome at a relatively young age have given him added confidence to embrace change.
Back in the garden, the berry harvest grows smaller by the day, just as the veggies are ripening.
Another transition is underway. Before we became parents, we were just “us.” Now, for the most part, we are again. As our children build lives of their own, we have an opportunity to stretch our wings, to explore what that means and to write a new chapter in our lives.