Family Life

Mama’s Girl

More than garden vegetables grow roots. Obviously. Trees, shrubbery, grass for cryin’ out loud. Stick with me, though. Family trees have roots too. The most significant moments seem to happen because of a garden…

For all of his life, my dad was a North Dakota wheat farmer, which means, ta-da! I grew up on a farm. Before I came along (privileged baby-of-the-family status was mine), my farmer’s-wife mother even made her own butter, so it’s no surprise that she grew a huge vegetable garden. She never had much luck with okra (and I was never sorry), but the tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, peas, squash of all kinds, carrots and onions and even the occasional parsnip grew in beautifully straight and weed free rows during my growing up years. Sweet corn, radishes, leaf lettuce, green beans, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi too. Mom grew a beautiful garden. She also killed snakes with the garden hoe. No wilting flower, my mother. Farmers’ wives in the mid-twentieth century had plenty of work to do. Gardening was always one of my mom’s most enjoyable bits of ‘work.’ And oh, she loved to preserve the bounty! She was a pickler, a canner — a real champ at putting food by. Her ‘giant leap’ footsteps are impossibly hard to follow — I missed out altogether on wearing her pickling shoes, which is just as well I suppose, as no one in my household even likes pickles, dill or otherwise. As for the canning, though, I do okay. It’s August, you know. Canning season. Yesterday’s work is today’s satisfaction. A lesson learned from my mother.

Summer's Goodness, Preserved

Summer’s Goodness, Preserved

While Mom obviously took great delight in canning the abundance of her gardening labors, I, more times than I like to admit, find the task merely arduous. (It sort of is, actually). Hours of standing, repetitive motion, and inevitably, given the calendar date, the work is hot. Mom usually sang through the canning hours, and I always interpreted those singing moments as evidence of joy in her labor.  While I happily inherited her love of singing, if not her lovely voice, many summers of my own gardening & preserving efforts were punctuated by reprimands to my boys, brief time-outs to oversee baths, and cleaning up the remainders of the day. In a word, I was cranky. Wouldn’t you know? Some lessons from Mom are a bit harder to learn.

My parents always had a garden, even when they ‘retired’ and bought a house in town, but my gardening days ended when we bought the house we’ve lived in for the past 17 years. (Some nonsense about my disinclination to pick the vegetables in a timely manner, my husband says…) I’ve not given up canning, though. The generosity of neighbors and friends (zucchini and green onions, green beans and tomatoes proliferate most summertimes) has kept me in the canning biz. For that I am grateful. Those gleaming jars make my heart sing, not just with gladness for the home-grown goodness within, but for the tradition my mother saw fit to pass along to me. Her devotion to her family showed up in all sorts of ways, but I always remember it best when I stand in my kitchen filling jars of tomatoes, just like she did. So glad to be my Mama’s girl. Her roots are still producing fruit. I think she’d like the taste of that.

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