Fruit of the Womb

It was funny when my dad did it. But when…

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY TIM FOLEY

When I think of my father, I picture him tending to his plants. Or, at least, hands on his lower back, gazing down at them. One of my most cherished childhood memories is of his evening trek out to the garden—in his underwear. Yep. Just his underwear.

I have a picture of him in his wildflower patch wearing just red Fruit of the Looms. Briefs, if you’re wondering. Ha! Even now it makes me laugh. I remember secretly taking a picture through our bathroom window and guffawing gleefully when I got the film developed. (Don’t worry, Dad, I didn’t send the picture in with this story.)

I remember secretly taking a picture through our bathroom window and guffawing.

My parents have always lived in south-central Minnesota, where Summers are hot, swampy, and humid. Back then Dad worked in a warehouse loading trucks year-round, but my mom, an elementary school teacher, had Summers off. She would work in the garden while he was away during the day, and he always went out to look at her progress in the evenings. They both loved gardening. And they were serious about it—most of the produce we ate through the year came from our garden. They were forever planning, composting, planting, weeding, powdering, harvesting, or setting out traps. (We successfully relocated a lot of rabbits to a distant neighbor’s grove, and to this day I get a kick out of driving past when I visit. There are always rabbits there.)

And my parents didn’t stop there. They planted hundreds of trees and bushes and, most ambitiously, decided to create a huge wildflower patch. They spent all Spring and Summer painstakingly marking out the location of flowers they liked in the woods.

That Fall, they went back to gather seeds. After they sowed said seed, I was tasked with weeding the new patch. There was one big problem: Many of the flower shoots looked like weeds! It was awful.

As a child, I hated the garden and flowers and just about everything green. The work was hot and dirty. I resented always being sent to the weediest spot. My shoes were often caked in mud, and I remember being very itchy from weeds and bugs.

I now find myself, at 41, an avid gardener. A big change, I know, but it was gradual. It started with potted plants and, well, grew while I was focused on other things. I mean, of course we needed raspberries! Kids love them, and they are so much better fresh. I hadn’t realized how much tastier homegrown things were until I had to rely on a grocery store. Yuck!

Three years ago, my husband, Matt, and I bought a house on about 1/3 of an acre in northern Idaho. We transformed the south-facing backyard into a big fruit and vegetable garden. We have grapes, kiwis, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, a cherry tree, a peach tree, a pluot tree, a plum tree, three large raised garden beds, and a nice sunny terrace for plants like pumpkins and watermelons to climb. I plan to purchase a bay laurel for the house next Spring. Oh, and I really want one of my mom’s sacred lily of India bulbs—and an iris from Matt’s grandma.

Not only that, I recently spread some native wildflower seeds around our fence line. And our lovely neighbors have allowed us to plant 30 (yes, 30) large trees and bushes on their adjoining property. I mean, of course we need more trees! I think my garden actually produced more than my parents’ did last Summer—Whoo-hoo! OK, I’m not counting their potato patch …orchard…or corn plot. No fair! They have more space.

The clincher, the thing that made me realize just how much I have changed, happened late last Summer. I planted a cover crop for the first time to provide nutrients to the soil and prevent weed infiltration. After it sprouted, I was so excited.

A few mornings later, my kids were out in the yard playing baseball with Matt when they hit a ball over the fence into our garden area. I noticed them opening the gate to retrieve it—and literally gasped. I had my cover crop planted there! I rushed outside to see if it was damaged. Whew, it was fine. Tough stuff, I guess.

Meanwhile, my kids were laughing so hard they were starting to fall over. Only then did I realize what I was wearing…no, not just underwear—my nightgown!

I put my hands on my hips and put on my sternest face. “NO pictures!” I shouted.

No way did I want my dad to get to see that!


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