It was an idiot idea that raising my own food would be cheaper than getting it at the grocery store and that it would be a fun thing to do with the kids. It is of course, not cheaper: the hidden cost is manual labor in the hot sun. I tried to convince the kids that I was having a party out there, sweating in my overalls and straw hat, and that each tiny shrunken carrot I dug out of the clayey soil was a glittering gem. I would shake off the dirt and say, “Extraordinary! Kids, you won’t believe this, but this carrot tastes just like Chocolate Sprinkle Freezy Toaster Puffs!”
Of course they couldn’t hear me. They were inside, watching a movie with my mother, with their arms elbow deep in a communal bag of potato chips (the potatoes had not come from my garden.) I looked in the window and waved and made the gesture that means, come on out all of you gluttons and do your part for the Protestant work ethic, but my mom shooed me off. I could see her mouth form the words “We’re happy in here.” I went back to hoeing.
It went on like this for weeks: I was progressively getting taner, living the dream (sort of) while they were snacking on tubs of high fructose corn syrup and watching daytime. “What are you doing?” My mother asked, on a rare foray into my green, bug-infested world, with a glass of store bought lemonade. A wisp of cool house air followed her. And like in the Sunday morning cartoons, the scent and coolness of that air went right up my nose like a mist and I almost tranced out and got those whirley eyes of the crazy coyote, but I caught myself.
I said, “Spraying the tomatoes with a homemade solution of essential oils and organic vinegar, what does it look like I’m doing?”
“Oh,” she said.
“But thanks for the lemonade. It might be just the thing to get the aphids off the green peppers.”
When, toward the end of the growing season, I presented to my family my “harvest” of a single radish and divided it into fourths in a near-religious act, I realized. Wow. This had not met expectations. I had had bigger plans. Expansive plans. Like canning a winter’s worth of tomato sauce and terracing my parent’s suburban lawn into wild rice paddies. I had hoped to invent a recipe for half sour pickles that was so great I would never have to work again.
What gardener isn’t a dreamer, a sci-fi fantasarian? A miniscule, dry, dead-seeming seed drills up through the earth, pushing shit out of its way. Once it’s above ground in the sun it unfolds a huge yellow jungle flower and from that flower protrudes a zucchini large enough to feed fifteen. Actually, that happened. My kids took their greasy little hands out of the chip bag to touch the vegetable’s smooth skin, green as a lizard and a full of life.
My husband said approvingly, “God that’s huge.”
I said, “God? Ha. Nothing to do with it. That zucchini was born of woman.”