My daughter is learning how to be a farmer. That’s the same daughter who showed terrible disdain for my choice in Mother’s Day gifts many years ago, when I asked for a roto tiller for my garden. She asked me why I couldn’t want stuff like the “other” moms wanted for Mother’s Day, you know, like perfume and make up. I’m not sure if I actually had girlfriends who asked for make up for Mother’s Day, but I understood where she was coming from. Clad in overalls, work boots and likely a bit of a muddy mess, I gave my body a once over scan with the available arm that wasn’t holding a pot or a shovel or anything that related to my garden and said, “Do I look like the kind of person who would ask for make up for a gift?” At the same time, I totally understood her. It was the part about “be like the other moms” that she was trying emphasize, because that is what feels far more comfortable when you’re a child, or maybe even forever. It wasn’t the first time I had heard that, or the 2nd, and most times it was warranted as it usually followed a less than flattering situation that I had put myself in. Wearing slippers to the grocery store comes to mind. I could always justify it with a, “but it was a very quick, run in and run out trip, and I didn’t anticipate seeing anyone I knew, but I guess I should have realized that Emery saw me and when your mom wears slippers instead of shoes, well, it’s kind of embarrassing. And then there’s that whole situation of if she wears slippers when I’m with her, what does she wear when I’m not with her? Valid point and I’ll let it go at that.
Out of all 3 of my kids, it was Emery who spent the most time in my gardens with me growing up, simply because of the fact that she was home all day with me and there was always something that needed to be tended to in the garden. After working tirelessly either with laying flagstone pathways or planting or trimming or weeding, usually with a start at sunrise to avoid the summer heat, it was Emery who always acted interested when I’d ask who wanted to come see what I had been working on all day? Maybe she just felt sorry for me, all that work and all, without fully understanding that it never felt like work to me, but rather was more like a physical meditation with incredible results after a long day. I truly believe that if push came to shove and she had to state her truth on gardening, she’d admit that she kind of liked it or at least she had developed an appreciation for the outcome after much hard work. Before she was even in kindergarten, she knew the Latin names of most of my shrubs and several of the perennials. I was so used to it, that I forgot that it really wasn’t normal when talking about the spirea bushes to have your 4 year-old ask which ones you were talking about. The Vanhouttes or the Little Princesses (or Japonicas, to be exact)? I taught her gardening in the same manner that I taught her how to find her way to the baggage claim in pursuit of her knowledge of travel: I talked out loud and she followed me and before I knew it, she was the leader in finding the baggage claim and was calling plants by their Latin names (a good habit I had to learn when working at a garden center that I’ve never given up).
When she was in kindergarten, my flower garden became far more important to her because unbeknownst to me, my clever little 5 year-old was hatching a plan. Her teacher, who she loved dearly, tutored kids in the summer a couple of times a week in subjects that they were having problems with. When I look back on that now and think of how absurd it sounds to hire a tutor for your just out of kindergarten child, I have to remember that I was trying to do all I could to insure my kid’s success in school, so if post kindergarten tutoring over the summer was in order, then that is what we’d do. Besides, Emery had convinced me that she desperately needed her teacher’s help over the summer as she was really having a hard time with her school work. Was it reading? Do kids learn to read in kindergarten? Math? How hard is math in Kindergarten? How quickly I’ve forgotten something that seemed so dire at the time. And so my little schemer got her way and her sweet teacher came to our house twice a week for tutoring. Emery insisted that the lessons take place in the garden and on the swing, because according to her, it was the nicest view the there was. She was right.
By the end of the summer, Emery made her announcement. My garden, now referred to as the “garden of love” would be the site of her teacher’s wedding, either in the fall or the spring, whichever time would be the prettiest. Her teacher wasn’t dating anyone at the time, or at least that I was aware of, and when I mentioned that to Emery, she didn’t seem overly concerned, but rather, asked where the best spot would be for her to stand when the newspaper came to take pictures of the wedding. Under the arch, definitely under the rose covered arch. Or maybe one of those pensive walking away shots on the flagstone path. Good grief, she had sucked me right into the planning of the nuptials of a wedding where there was not yet a groom! She knew who was going to be in the wedding, what she would wear (I think that was first on her agenda), what music would be played and very important details on the cake, which would be the only food for the wedding. Still, no talk about a groom. The only single guy that Emery knew was her Uncle Bill, who lived in Seattle, and at one point she casually mentioned that he could probably be the groom. Minor details.
The wedding plans faded as she moved into first grade and she once again became obsessed with her teacher, who looked like Snow White, but who’s prince had already come. So there would be no wedding in the garden, although calling it the “garden of love” stuck, and if I still lived there today, I’m sure I’d still be calling it that. Her take on that beautiful corner of the yard had me seeing it differently every time I spent time in it. It really was a garden of love, whether there was a wedding taking place there or not, the love was always there.
Even though it happened by default, and with a bit of reluctance, those seeds for a love of working the earth had been planted and were germinating for Emery just as they had for me when I was about the same age. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in the summer and would marvel at the size of my Papa’s garden and the fact that the bounty that he’d bring in every day and set on the kitchen counter, was only there because he had planted the seeds with his own bare hands and tended to them until they became plants that eventually made their way onto our dinner plates. That, to me, was nothing short of a miracle. A few years later, while still in grade school, I planted my own garden – a small weedy patch in a back corner of the yard where I planted a handful of watermelon seeds. And what do you know, it worked! Just as it had worked in my Papa’s garden. Those oval, black, shiny seeds grew into watermelons that looked just like the ones on the front of the seed packet. I still remember the hot afternoon that I had gone out to “tend” to my little patch of a garden when hidden behind vines and weeds I saw a fully grown and ripe watermelon, ready for the picking. I sat down, right then and there, and broke it open, enjoying the fruits of my labor. It wasn’t cold or sliced, but it was the best watermelon I had ever eaten and because it was mine and I had grown it myself, I ate the whole thing, its juice running down my chin to my chest while I buried my face in the warm pink fruit, pausing only long enough to spit the seeds out. To this day, watermelon is still one of my favorite foods and always comes up when playing that game of what would your last meal consist of, which oddly comes up more than you’d think. So I get it. I get the gardening, the manipulating the earth, the being outside and getting dirty thing. I think it was in my genes and I’m proud to claim my role in it becoming a part of my daughters genetic make up.
This past winter, Emery and her husband, Miles, purchased acreage outside of Ft. Collins, CO and are learning how to be farmers, which is entailing a lot more than just planting. They will also soon be goat owners, chicken owners and started keeping bees a few months ago. My daughter has a bee keeping suit for Pete’s sake! I marvel at that one. They are currently in Taos, NM getting their certification for permaculture farming, as well as a bit of hands on training with raising goats, which doesn’t surprise me one bit, the goat part, that is. When Emery was young, she absolutely adored the goats at the petting farm and would pass by all other animals without even slowing down, with a beeline to the goats. Living just down the street from the petting farm made going to visit the goats a regular pastime for us. She was so sweet with them and would talk to them like she was their mother – scolding, praising, and trying to teach the aggressive ones some manners. Fast forward 20 plus years and she’s found her goats again. The same little girl who was deathly afraid of silver fish, those tiny little fellas who squirm around your house in search of where your most beloved wool sweaters were kept, had no problem taking on a pen full of rambunctious goats, while her mom tended to keep a safe distance on the other side of the gate. It pleases me to no end to think that now she’s going to have her hand at them again.
A few nights ago Emery texted me from Taos and told me that she got her spirit from me. I read those words, paused, then I read them again. I didn’t want to stop reading them. It’s impossible to fully understand the impact of seeing yourself in your kids until you have that “oh, wow… that’s me..” moment, especially when it is something in your life that you covet and are proud of. I couldn’t help but think that now, finally, she might understand who that woman was who asked for a roto tiller for Mother’s Day. That woman just may have been onto something that she would only begin to understand once she started digging around in the dirt herself. At that time though, Emery simply wasn’t ready for that mom who showed up at the store in her slippers, or in overalls when I should have been wearing something “nicer” or with a face full of poison ivy on back to school night; that mom who didn’t look or necessarily act, like the other moms. I’ve got to think that as she digs deeper into this endeavor of farming, much of that will not only make sense to her, but she just might do the exact same thing, overalls and all.
To that daughter who wished makeup, not roto tillers for me, along with twirly dresses, and manicured hands, yet at the same time, insisted on spending time in my “garden of love,” because it was the BEST view and there was something very special about it, now it’s my turn. Now I get to be the one following you as we walk your land and you point out all of the many things you and Miles have planted and the many more things that Mother Nature planted before you. Keep digging in that ground my beautiful daughter, and you’ll find treasures that you never imagined…the biggest one being yourself.