by Jim Bates
Twenty years ago, during the spring of the 2019 lock-down, Mom announced, “We are planting a garden.”
I was thirteen and my brother Jay was nine so, of course, we complained, me being the loudest, “Aw, Mom. No!”
“What, you’d rather play video games?”
Well, yeah, of course, but I couldn’t stay that. Instead, I just moped until she said, “And no moping either.” She gave me a look like only she could give, one that implied a lot of time not playing my precious video games if I didn’t shape up. That would not be good. Fortnite was helping to get me through the pandemic. I looked at Jay and we silently agreed to the garden idea, but only for the greater good.
The next day we marked off a ten by twenty-foot square on the sunny south side of the house. Dad had left us for good a few years earlier and Mom and Jay and I had developed an easy camaraderie in his absence, which was fortunate because, for starters, there was a lot of sod. It took us almost a week to dig it all out.
“We can store it behind the garage,” Mom said. “It’ll rot and turn to compost.”
Whatever compost was. But I didn’t argue. I must have wheelbarrowed a hundred loads back there that week, sweating rivers the entire time. You know what? A few years later it had turned to compost. It wasn’t the first time Mom had been right, nor the last.
We added manure to the fresh bed we’d dug, and that stuff stank to high heaven, much to the delight of me and my brother.
“It’s just horse manure,” Mom said. We giggled, our imaginations running wild at how the stuff was collected. We were boys, remember, and easily entertained. When the soil was all prepared, Mom said, “Now the fun begins.”
Our ears perked up. “Are we going for ice cream?” I asked.
“How about burgers?” Jay added.
Mom laughed, “You boys should go on the comedy circuit when this pandemic is over.” She grabbed her purse and her car keys. “But no such luck. Come on, let’s go.”
“Where to?” I asked.
could have cut the disappoint with a garden trowel, but what did we know? It
turned out to be fun.
Mom pulled our old Toyota into the parking lot and the car shuddered to a halt. We put on our masks and got out. Mom was excited, “You boys pick out what you want,” she told us and turned us loose.
Well, all right then.
I walked up and down the aisles making it a point to stay socially distant. It wasn’t hard in the place the size of a basketball court with maybe five other people wandering around poking at plants.
I had no idea what I was looking at so instead of going for pretty, I went for strange. I picked out a big, prickly looking thing with purple flowers. The girl at the checkout told me was an Echinops. “Another name for it is a globe thistle,” she added with a smile.
“Cool,” I said, grinning and trying appear knowledgeable. “Is it one of those meat eaters?” I asked. “Like a Venus fly trap?”
The nice thing about the pandemic was it gave me and Jay a lot of time to watch television when Mom had banned us from video games. I think it was on the Nature Channel or something that we came across plants that ate flies and stuff. Which we thought was pretty amazing.
“No,” she said, sadly shaking her head.” She was about ten years old than me and I had the sudden thought that maybe she liked me. “It's just a regular plant.”
“Oh,” I said, my disappointment palpable.
“It’s a good pollinator, though,” she remarked, enthusiastically, as if that meant anything to me. I had no idea what a pollinator was. She held the plant up for us both to admire.
“It’s very nice, isn’t it?” I said, trying to prove I had something on the ball. I’m not sure she bought into it, so I looked around for Mom. I was ready to go.
Jay walked up and stood next to me with his plant. “Look,” he said. It was white and yellow and looked like a regular flower. Kind of boring.
“That’s a daisy,” the girl behind the counter commented.
Jay smiled. “I like it. It’s pretty.” He could be kind of a nob sometimes.
Mom came up pulling a wagon loaded with a variety of plants. “I’m getting these vegetables.”
“What kind did you get?” All I could think of was how long it was going to take to plant all of it.
She proudly stated, “I’ve got tomato plants, some zucchini, green peppers and a bunch of beans.”
“Cool,” I said. I was getting into this pretending that I knew what I was talking about thing.
She gave me her patented look that told me she knew better, and said, “Yes. It’s very cool.”
Then we checked out.
Back home we spent the afternoon giving, as Mom said, ’our new friends a home.’ It was when we were putting in the beans that I noticed the tag said it was a legume. “What’s a legume?” I asked Mom, and immediately regretted it.
“I have no idea,” she said. “Let’s look it up.”
I sighed. Why was everything a learning experience with her? Why couldn’t we just sort of, you know, go with the flow? But she was committed to pounding some knowledge into us one way or the other. And she was persistent, too, I have to give her that.
We took a break, got some lemonade and sat in the shade while mom took out her phone and looked up legumes. “It says here that beans are members of the legume family.”
No clue what that meant.
She went on to say that legumes provided a home for a kind of soil bacteria that took nitrogen out of the air in the soil. That was good for the plants because nitrogen helped them grow, and it was good for the bacteria because the plants provided them with food.
I joked with her. “Well, who knew?” I said, and laughed, looking to my brother and winking. Following my lead, he laughed, too.
Mom shook her head. “You boys…” she said, half joking, half exasperated. “I’ll be glad when this pandemic is over. Maybe back in school, you’ll actually appreciate learning something.”
Smart ass that I was, I said, “You can but hope, Mom.”
She just grinned and said, “Let’s get back to work.”
I have to say, in looking back, Mom put up with a lot. I give her tons of credit for that.
Eventually, we did go back to face-to-face classes, and four years later I graduated from high school, much to my mom’s pride and amazement. My favorite subject had been eleventh grade ecology. I learned that plants like beans and other legumes were essential to the ecosystem because of their nitrogen fixing properties. Land was important. Soil, too.
I’ve been a teacher for seven years now and here’s what I tell my tenth-grade biology class, “If you ever get a chance to plant a garden, do it. You’ll learn a lot.” Most of them laugh. Fresh vegetables are in rare supply these days in 2041. But legumes still are flourishing and that’s good. The way things are going, we’re going to keep needing them.
Mom still has that garden on the south side of the house, and me and Jay go over and help her plant it every spring. You know what? I wouldn’t miss it for the world, because there’s no doubt in my mind at all, that it was one of the best summers me and Jay and Mom ever had. And that was in spite of the pandemic.
About the author