For the month of May, my writing prompts will be taken from this website. Today’s is: “Do you have plants or a garden? Describe.”

When my brother and I were small, a huge part of our summer each summer was spent in the garden bent double with our faces pointed toward the ground, eyes carefully looking to discern the right plants and the wrong plans, our feet pressing into the tilled but still hard clay ground, our arms swinging freely with hands grasping errant foliage. Day after day, we weeded the rows, sometimes as part of our chores, other times as punishment, but always with purpose and the knowledge that we were helping share the burden of raising seeds into things we could eat.

Dad was the person who tilled and prepared the soil, and he also carried countless buckets of water for us to dip from to water the rows. Mom planted the seeds, especially the small and delicate ones that my brother and I were too little to be careful with, but sometimes they would let us plant things like corn or melons or the ones with the larger seeds that didn’t require nearly as much precision. Adam and I weeded and helped with the watering and harvesting.

Once things were harvested, we would eat whatever we could while it was fresh in the summer and early fall, but when we’d exhausted our desire for fresh produce, we’d help can or freeze whatever we could for winter. One summer when Mom decided to can some hot peppers, she didn’t know that she needed to wear gloves, and her hands got burnt so bad that they blistered. That was a really difficult couple of weeks, because the pain was unbearable for her and the blisters made it difficult to do most every day tasks.

I guess what I remember most about gardening when we were young is the way our parents hid the desperation with which we gardened. We didn’t know until years later that we depended upon the produce from our labors to make it through the year with fresh food. Our parents never one time let on that we were unable to afford the same luxuries as some of our friends, and we weren’t made to feel as if we had to help, unless we were being punished.

For as much as Mom canned and froze vegetables, Dad raised and butchered the animals. I remember rabbits, chickens, pigeons, and other animals that we raised from babies and turned into food. We fished in our pond and at the river as well as slaughtering a lot of our own meat, and we didn’t know that we did all of this because it was so much cheaper than buying everything from the grocery or any of the markets near where we lived.

I don’t mean to paint a picture of us as incredibly poor to the point of being destitute, because on Saturdays sometimes Dad would take me to the comic book store to get a comic and soda, and sometimes Mom would take me after preschool to get some root beer barrels or she’d buy us some Chips Ahoy cookies at the southside Joe’s when we went to get the things we didn’t raise on our own. Toiletries, paper goods. An occasional Faygo Rock ‘n’ Rye.

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