Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Saturday, September 3, 2011

My best life lesson I learned in the garden

Published in Cumberland Times-News Wednesday, August 31, 2011.
"The image of that scene remains in my mind’s eye; and even now, I feel the shift in my thinking that took place at that moment: The overwhelmed child grew a step toward becoming the industrious adult."

In my youth, my parents planted a bountiful vegetable garden. It stretched the 120-foot width of our lower lot, and about a third of the depth. A narrow path on either side bordered our neighbors’ yards and gardens, and across the bottom were woods.

Otherwise in that lot, across the road from our front porch, were a red raspberry patch, two Concord grape arbors, a half-dozen sour cherry trees, three German Prune plum trees, a red currant bush, a Yellow Transparent apple tree, a Winter Banana apple tree, a McIntosh graft on an otherwise generic apple tree, another sprawling apple tree that served best to support my suspended wooden swing, two Chinese chestnut trees, and a black walnut tree. The blossoms in spring were spectacular.

Later, my parents planted two Bartlett pear trees. The pears are delicious. The cherry trees broke to smithereens in an ice storm many winters back. The grape arbors, too, came down decades ago. The chestnuts are beautiful trees, though the fruits are wormy. The McIntosh graft is dead. The swing and its tree are long gone. The banana apple provides good shade now for the nearest neighbor, and fodder for the deer.

As my older siblings moved out, and we no longer needed it, my father seeded the garden in clover -- beloved by groundhogs (who always were troublesome in the garden). The lot serves now as a front yard for my 91-year-old mother and me.

In my younger days, we kept busy spring, summer and fall -- planting, weeding, picking, cleaning, seeding, canning and freezing. We had two sets of shelves in the basement, each four feet wide and six feet tall, spaced to fit quart jars. By summer’s end, we filled them with colorful gems of cherry, raspberry and currant preserves, grape juice and jelly, pitted plums and cherries, tomatoes, green beans, beets, pickles and relish, apple butter and applesauce, and peaches we bought by the bushel from a storehouse in Pinto, Maryland.

In addition to beef bought from my mother’s parents, who raised Black Angus and Charolais, our double chest freezer filled with bags of corn, peas and walnuts. The cabbage, potatoes, lettuce, green peppers, peanuts, onions and yellow squash we used during the season.

I learned my best life lesson from Mom in our garden.

The rows seemed to me, as a youngster, to stretch to infinity; and eyeing the length of the garden from my crouched position weeding, I lamented the magnitude of the job.

“Don’t look at what you’ve got yet to do,” my mother said. “Look at what you’ve gotten done. And keep weeding!”

The image of that scene remains in my mind’s eye; and even now, I feel the shift in my thinking that took place at that moment: The overwhelmed child grew a step toward becoming the industrious adult.

Still, when jobs are big, I draw on Mom’s wisdom at that moment in the garden. Big jobs require time and persistence. The long view comes into focus with completion of each task along the way. Looking back regularly, to appreciate accomplishments, provides motivation and direction. Then, when the job is complete, the satisfaction that comes with hard work and beautiful results makes the investment and diligence worthwhile.

And, in the end, life is like that.

What I learned in the garden that day is, rather than grumble when faced with a big job, or a small task – or life’s challenges -- I praise God for the place, the time, and the ability to do it. And I thank Him for the garden, the lesson, and Mom.

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