Read by Pat and Becky Stone
What could be in this big box?” asked Beth, my adult daughter, as she started to open it. “It’s not my birthday or anything.”
“I know,” I replied, “but it’s just the perfect time for it.”
She lifted out a big harvest basket. “The orange basket!” she exclaimed. “Mom, really?!! This is perfect!” She gave me a big, long hug.
Later, as Beth got ready to drive away with the orange basket in her car, my mind traveled back a few decades.
Decades ago, when our children were young, my husband and I finally had our first vegetable garden. After eight years of apartment living (two with the U.S. Army stationed in Germany), we bought our first house. We figured that a 40’ x 40’ plot in our sunny, flat yard would provide ample vegetables for us and our three small children. We started with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, green beans, lettuce, and eggplant. My husband sprouted the seeds indoors and tilled the plot. But, with his busy career as a surgeon, he was mostly absent from the day-to-day gardening. In other words, the weeds were left to me. Naturally, I enlisted help from our children.
At that time, they were really too young to do big weeds. They excelled at pulling out the emerging ones—their little fingers could deftly slide between tiny stems and uproot anything growing outside of my straight line of seedlings. As Summer progressed, my three little ones were eager to pluck ripe tomatoes or reach under leaves to find the green beans or cucumbers. (No one wanted to pick the eggplant.) There was a lot to harvest, so I purchased a very large wire basket to convey our vegetables from the garden to the kitchen. I bought the top model: it had two sturdy handles and its wire mesh was encased in soft orange plastic to protect the fragile bounty.
Summer in St. Louis also brought high temperatures and humidity. I began venturing out to the garden only in the comparatively cool 70s of the morning. My children mostly opted to stay in the air-conditioning. Charles, our 11-year-old son, had allergies; Beth, our 5-year-old daughter, quickly melted in the heat; and Molly, well, she was only 3. Their job now was to set a timer and bring me a drink of water every half-hour. However, when it was Beth’s turn to be the water girl, she devised her own way of helping me in the garden.
She climbed up our swing set, sat atop the slide, and sang, “This song is brought to you by the letter N, for nice, new, nest. But never say no.”
Clearly Sesame Street was nurturing our children in music, letters, and words. In her sweet, strong, most theatrical 5-year-old voice, Beth began entertaining me. She created her own repertoire for my benefit. Songs, plays, stories, adventures from her favorite TV show—all for an audience of one.
“Mom, my teacher read Cinderella to me today,” Beth told me one day as I picked peppers and green beans. She began acting out the characters with different voices.
“‘Cinderella, fix my dress, do my hair, clean my shoes,’ said the mean stepsisters.”
“‘We’re going to the ball, Cinderella, but not you because you didn’t finish your chores,’ yelled the mean stepmother.”
Surprising how quickly the weeds flew from under my hoe while I listened to her sweet, young voice wafting over our plot. Other influences echoed through her words. After my husband and I returned from a trip to England, world travel began to intrigue her.
“You’re on a cruise ship going to South America. You’re going to see the Amazon River.” Her excited voice took us both over oceans while I watered the tomatoes.
One hot day, when I finished my garden work, I gathered up the hoe, trowel, kneeling pad and other gardening paraphernalia, already anticipating a cool shower.
“Beth,” I called, “will you grab the basket of zucchini and cucumbers? I don’t have enough hands.”
“Sure, Mom,” was all she said as glided down the slide and grabbed the orange basket. I wondered: was some of my love of gardening being picked up along with the daily harvest?
Now, many years later, the yard at our new house is comprised mostly of trees and squirrels; there’s not a sunny, flat space to be found. Fortunately, thanks to Beth, our family is not wanting for fresh vegetables. When she left my house, Beth was heading home to harvest produce from her large garden of raised beds for her family. I know she’ll use the old orange basket to carry it.
Perhaps I should tag along and entertain her with a story.
Maybe this one! ❖
This article was published originally in 2023, in GreenPrints Issue #135.