The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


August 24, 2013

It's a runt, it's a speck, no — it's Nerissa Young's garden

The Back Porch column

Psychologists say our identities and feelings of well-being are defined by the rhythms in our lives. We like predictability because we find safety in it.

Back to school is one rhythm. The Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year season is another. For country people, the growing season is a rhythm defined by the cycles of planting, tending and harvesting.

Mom and I made our annual sojourn to the state fair where I saw pole beans that surely came from Jack’s beanstalk. I could have made a board fence from them.

Sorry to say, my own garden has been drastically affected by federal sequestration cuts. Congress needs to pass a budget now for me to have any hope of getting homegrown produce. My corn nubbins came in that way; the Jolly Green Giant didn’t have to cut them down to size. And my beans … well, I finally got a hat-full this week. The tomato crop is showing some promise, though.

When I was growing up, I hated working in the garden. I couldn’t tell what was weeds and what was crops — much to Mom’s chagrin — and I hated standing bent over for hours with sweat running down my back and other parts of my anatomy.

Picking green beans and getting a handful of those nasty yellow bugs was one detestable task. Squirting vegetable oil onto the silks of row after row of sweet corn was another.

I couldn’t wait to get away from the garden and all that hard labor. What’s the first thing I do when I get a patch of ground with a mortgage note attached? Stick seeds and plants in it. I already had a hoe I’d bought at an estate sale from the widow of a man our family greatly loved and respected. His wife said he hoed potatoes with it just days before he died.

Bud, I hate to say this, but I have shamed your hoe. I can’t get much from my garden other than bug bites and frustration. But I keep on doing it because it’s a rhythm tuned in me by generations of forebears.

Daddy always said he wanted to raise one good garden so he could tell Grandpa about it when he got to heaven. Next Wednesday would have been Daddy’s 76th birthday. He went on to tell Grandpa about it almost four years ago.

His funeral — a week before Christmas — was during the worst blizzard in two decades. Yet, when I walked to the pulpit to give the eulogy, I looked out at a full church. People had come from all around to say goodbye, risking their lives and their vehicles.

I talked about Daddy’s wish for one good garden and said that he had it. The people who came to that funeral were part of Daddy’s garden, evidence he had been here and the fruits of his labor.

While I won’t win any blue ribbons for my garden, I like to think Daddy sowed and cultivated in me the things that really matter. Lord knows, my ground was harder to work than Georgia clay.

If, when I go to tell Daddy and Grandpa about my lack of agricultural skills and to apologize to Bud for the misuse of his hoe, a few people have gathered to shout at my departure, I’ll count myself mighty lucky.

That’s the garden I hope to grow.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail:

© 2013 by Nerissa Young

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