What’s better than stepping outside and eating food from your own garden? I would argue: nothing. Gardening definitely appeals to the cheapskate in me (look! free food!).
But it’s not just that. I’ve always loved working outside, from early memories helping my Dad chop wood for the fireplace. I would climb into the wheelbarrow and he would push me way to the back of our property where the wood pile was. The way he flung the axe and sledgehammer around, splitting wood seemed easy. I couldn’t wait to try it and still light up at any opportunity to show off my skills. I even found that our basement, with its high ceilings, is a perfect venue for wood-splitting. I can swing the axe straight-armed over my head and have split cords of wood down there. I just have to remember to wear flat shoes.
Maybe because scarcity was such a theme during my childhood, I have always been captivated by the abundance of crops. One of my fondest memories takes place on a family farm where I spent a summer picking strawberries and generally helping out. One day I was suckering a field of tomatoes; the plants went on forever and it was blazing hot. The woman who owned the farm came to check on me a couple of times. The third time she brought a bough cut from one of their cherry trees and loaded with fat dark cherries. I sat and picked it clean, savoring each sweet bite and the abundance of my harvest. Cherries have been my favorite fruit ever since.
We’ve been eating lettuce from the garden for the past couple of months; there’s just a small patch but we only pick what we need at the time and we’ve had enough for big salads every day. Now, though, we have lettuce trees.
It was past time to refresh the bed. I planted some seeds last week but worried that we would have a few weeks without lettuce. It was a great excuse to visit the great mecca of Portland gardeners:
I picked out some starts and chatted with a few fellow gardeners along the way. I marveled at the variety and sheer volume of flora that surrounded me.
I had been talking with someone earlier about the project and had a hundred dollar bill in my pocket. “How do you pick?” she wanted to know. I didn’t have a great answer. But I was looking at everyone I passed, wondering if that was the right person.
A woman in a worn-out tank top and sweatpants caught my eye. At first I didn’t pay her any attention, then I took another look and realized she’s probably been passed over before. She was pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair and carrying on a conversation with an older man and someone I took to be her husband. I pushed my cart to the side and followed them.
She was standing in front of the seed rack, the wheelchair at her side. “Oh, look, mom. Yellow carrots. How about that? Mom? Are you getting cold?”
The woman in the wheelchair had a dazed, faraway look that I recognized; it took me right back to my mother’s bedside. The younger woman bent down and took her mother’s hands. Concern was etched in her face. “Her hands are so cold,” she said to her husband. “I think she’s getting cold. Maybe we should go soon. Mom? You okay? Mom?” The man stepped away and I went over to the woman.
“Hi,” I said. She responded politely but clearly wasn’t looking for casual conversation. I was a little afraid she was going to bolt so I made it quick. “It’s a pay-it-forward thing. I’m honoring my mom; she died last year and left me a gift. I’d like you to have this.” I held the bill out to her.
“What? Really? Oh, I couldn’t take that! For real??” Then she reached out and gave me a big hug. She held out her hand to shake mine. “I’m Margo. Thank you so much! Oh, wow!” She didn’t seem to be in a hurry any more and had a lot of questions about my mom. She said she could really use the money: she’s out of work and has two vehicles that are in need of repairs.
“My mother doesn’t live with us anymore but we see her every day,” she explained. “We like to take her places.” I remembered how hard it was to even take my mom outside for a 10-minute ride in her wheelchair. “That’s amazing,” I said. “I can only imagine how much it means to her.”
“Well, what are you going to do?” Margo said with a smile. She gathered her family together and I took their picture. Then it was just the two of us and she told me a little more about what they were going through. She gave me another hug. “Well, just remember,” I said, “There are people like me who care even though we’re strangers.”
“Yeah,” she said. “But things like this don’t happen very often. I don’t even know you. Well, I guess that’s not true.” She laughed. “I know you now!”
That’s right, Margo. And I know you.
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