Monday, January 28, 2008

How I Lost My Mother to Cancer, and Found Her through My Garden

Bush Beans, Summer 2006
I didn't start gardening until I was 29. To be truthful, my husband started gardening when I was 29; I became "gardening support." It started with one sad and wilted tomato plant last spring, and ended with a freezer full of garden-fresh tomatoes, zucchini, and beans that fall.
"Look!" My husband, James said. He had just come in from work, he was holding up a black, plastic pot with a wilted tomato plant that hung limply to the side. He was smiling like a twelve-year-old boy with a huge toad bulging out of his fist. I eyed the tomato plant with far less enthusiasm than he, and didn't say anything.
"It's a tomato plant!" He said, thrusting it toward me. I reached out to take it, and then changed my mind, dropping my hand back down to my side. Our two-year old son, Ben, plowed into my husband's legs at that moment, and the sad tomato plant flopped from side to side.
"I can see that it's a tomato plant," I said. "What is it doing here?"
"We're gonna plant it! We'll get more, and we'll have a vegetable garden this year," he said. He knelt down on the floor to show Ben the plant, "look, Ben, tomato plant," he said to the toddler, who promptly grabbed at the limp greens.
"'Mato pants,” said Ben. "'Mato pants... Mato pants!" He chanted, dancing a jig around my husband.
That was the beginning of our garden. Plots were dug, the soil was prepared, gardening books of all kinds started showing up around the house; books piled up on the bathroom counter, in the office, and in the kitchen. Nearly every day brought James home from work with some new plant, or more seed packets. More and more vegetables, fruits and herbs were planted, and started to grow in our back yard garden.
James was thrilled with each new sprout, and I was indifferent. It wasn’t that I disliked gardening so much, I had not been enthusiastic about anything then; my mother had died suddenly and unexpectedly from a ruptured tumor in her lung a few months before, and nothing I did held much pleasure for me. Gardening just seemed like another chore to do, something to be “gotten to,” during the day. I kept Ben out of the garden, watered it when it was hot, and just continued to muddle through my days, reminding myself to get up each morning and breathe.
It was a Tuesday evening when James brought home a packet of bush beans, and I began to garden.

“Mom!” I shout, running into the house from the school bus. “Mom, where are you?” I hear here answer from her room so I toss my book bag on the sofa and hurry down the hall to her door.
“Becky, what are you shouting about?” She said. She looks at what I am holding in my hand and furrows her brow. “You’re getting dirt all over the carpet! Get that thing outside!” She walks toward me and shoos me down the hall and out the back patio door. The plastic baggie in my hand had sprung a leak sometime between school and my front door, and I leave a trail through the house.
“Sorry mom, but look, can I plant them in the back?” I hold up the baggie with its treasure inside; three small bean plants peek out of the top of the leaking bag.
“What are they?” Mom asks, her brow is still furrowed.
“Beans!” I say.
“You’re a sophomore in high school and you are growing beans in a baggie? What are you learning, kindergarten botany?” Mom says.
“I don’t know, I do what Mr. Thomas says. Anyways, can I plant them in the yard?” I say. I am still excited, even though I know I will eventually have to clean the dirt from the carpet, I have visions of Jack and his beanstalk running through my thoughts. Mom likes to have flowers in the yard, but we never grow anything edible, and I want to try.
“Fine, that’s fine I guess. You’ll need to make a place,” mom says. She reaches for the caddy that holds her gardening trowels and gloves, and ushers me down the deck steps toward the back of the yard. “Near the fence will be best, there,” she points to a spot by the fence, far from the tall tree that sits in the corner of the yard.
“Why not over there, by the tree?” I ask her, gesturing with my baggie of bean plants.
“They need sun,” she says. “I had better give you a hand or they will be dead by the weekend.” She kneels on the ground next to the spot she had pointed out, and begins to instruct me to pull out various weeds and stones. Less than an hour later, we have prepared a place, planted, and watered the beans. She explains how to care for them, and we go inside together to clean up the dirt, which I do, while she makes dinner.
For the few weeks that passed and ended school for the summer, mom and I would go out to see “Becky’s Beans,” as she had named them, and we watched them grow together. With three other sisters in the house, there never seems to be enough time alone with mom, this is something that brings mom and I together; we share conversations, not just about growing beans, but about other things, some things important, and some things not, but everything just mine and mom’s.
When the beans are finally big enough to pick and eat, mom sends me out with a colander and tells me to gather beans for dinner. I do, and when we eat that night, she brags about what good beans they are, and tells all of us girls that we should plant a garden together next time. We don’t, though, and I am glad. That year, mom and I didn’t grow a garden together, we grew together.

I planted my patch of bush beans in the sun last year, and I watched them sprout and grow. When I tended to them, I would remember “Becky’s Beans” from all those years ago, and recall the conversations we had together over my little plot of garden. She would encourage me when I was down about something, and laugh with me about something else. I weeded the rows of beans with the sun on my back and remembered mom’s laughter and wisdom.
When we harvested our crop last year, and ate fresh beans for dinner the day we picked them, I remembered mom at the table going on about “Becky’s Beans,” and I was glad that I had finally taken her advice about growing another garden. I didn’t just find a love for gardening; instead, I remembered my love for my mother and found her in the rich soil that, like her life, and then her passing, fostered new growth.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your heart-warming story. I'm so glad you found that connection with your mom again. I lost my mom 5 years ago and miss her so very much, she was my best friend. I enjoyed your site and can't wait to read more of your writing, I think you have a gift. BTW, I found the link on Bob I's FB page.