In the Garden I Grow

In the Garden I Grow

When I told my husband I planned to spend Saturday morning picking strawberries, he teased.

“You’ll be the only little chocolate drop out there,” he said. “Black people ain’t picking NOTHING – no more!”

I burst out laughing and explained that I like to get my hands in the dirt. It’s a way of connecting to the earth. Also, I have fond memories of gardening with my paternal grandparents. Every year, since I was a young girl and they were retired, I watched them delight in their harvest of corn, okra, green beans, lettuce, potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, radish, kale, collards, and other veggies. Grandma, even more than Granddad, eagerly anticipated the spring, waiting for the first break in the frost so they could till their plots. I had watched them pickle and “can” enough produce to last them through the winter and afford them significant savings in their grocery bills. My mother and her mother-in-law, my maternal Grandma, had welcomed me to their garden, where I learned to plant, weed, and harvest beets, carrots, yams, and other veggies right in the heart of “the urban jungle” where we lived.

I’d live in a row house in the inner city of the Nation’s Capitol. My Grandparents had gardens in the rear and on the side of their brick house and also manned a plot in a nearby community garden. Y mother and paternal grandmother had a plot in community garden in another area of the city. Gardening, to me, meant ensuring your own food in case any major calamity hit and the grocery stores and its supplies ever shut down. Gardening meant working your connection to the earth to secure your and your family’s survival.

Although I have neither the time, energy, or inclination to create and maintain my own garden these days, I enjoy novelty gardening.

“Why don’t you do this: save up your little money, buy the strawberry farm, and spare the whole race the embarrassment of you going out there picking the white man’s strawberries,” my husband teased.

I enjoyed a hearty laugh with him, but proceeded to the strawberry patch.

With my sleeves rolled up, kneeling down with my flat box in hand, I suddenly remembered one more thing I loved about gardening: my great grandparents had kept a strawberry patch in their backyard, located in the heart of Washington, D.C., for me and my cousins. Kneeling and picking strawberries now – in my 40s – I was reminded of days in my youth when I first learned to pick strawberries in my great-grandparents’ back yard. I remembered eating as many as I “saved for later.” My great grandparents and grandparents had experienced The Great Depression and believed in “saving for hard times.”

I recalled other lessons I had learned through gardening – and from my grandparents and great grandparents who gardened.

I was helping my grandparents prep their soil for seeds one year and Grandddad told me why I had to chop and pull up some old weeds that had branched out from a tall tree in their yard.

“The old roots will choke out roots from your new plants. You’ve got to cut those old roots out,” Granddad said. I thought about that one comment for weeks, and applied it to other areas of my life: cut out the old or it will choke the life out of what’s new.

Weeds – which are “unintended plants” – will drain nutrients from the soil and destroy your “intended plants,” Grand Dad believed. But I delighted in unintended red tulips that showed up in my yard.  I allowed them to live until they died a natural death.

In the garden, I realized I must root out some of my grandparents’ beliefs and traditions in order for my own to grow.



Basically Resourceful Sisters

Resourceful Sisters


As my best friend from high school dressed her daughter for the prom, we reminisced about our own high school days. We laughed about playing hooky once or twice, and fell out recalling antics in the hallways before and after school.


“I got banned from the band room forever!” my friend said. We laughed like waters gushing from a damn. Days later, we were laughing again remembering other high school treasures. I recalled her older sister proudly making her own prom dress, and that stirred memories of when all of us sewed.


“Remember that polka-dot outfit you made!” my friend, Chee-Chee said, howling with laughter. “Damn polka-dot culottes!


“Girl yeah! I made a light blue set just like it. Those were the pieces for my first professional wardrobe! Remember? I had an internship and had to dress up. Chile please, I put on my white buckle-up sandals, one of those outfits and you couldn’t tell me nothing!”


“And that green dress you made!” she continued.


“Oh girl! Remember I had to make the pattern outta newspaper!”


“Hey. You had to do what you had to do!” she said, laughing.


“We was some resourceful sisters!” I said laughing.


“Remember that time we saw that outfit at the store but I couldn’t afford it? Then a couple weeks later you was like, ‘You got it!” And I told you I made it!”


We had taken “Home Economics” classes in junior high school and high school. There, we had learned to cook and sew. My grandmother had given me a sewing machine. Chee-Chee had used her big sister’s sewing machine. Chee-Chee was a plus-size and found it easier to make the clothes she wanted than to shop for them. I was – uh – economically challenged and found it was cheaper to make clothes than to spend all my summer job earnings on them. But then you could buy a yard of fabric for $1.49 and I could make a skit and top with two yards, some thread, my time and creativity.


“You know how old we sound?” I told my friend as we reminisced about our good old days, declaring them better than these days.


“Embrace it Honey,” she said.


In our 40s, we’re accepting the inevitability of “middle-age” picking off our youth. We agreed on the value of our out-dated home economic classes.


“They don’t even teach home economics anymore,” she said. “Kids don’t learn how to cook!”


“Who needs to cook these days?” I said. “Po something in the microwave and call it a day!”


“That stuff’s no good for you. That’s why everybody’s so fat!” she said.


“I know. Those quick meals don’t really satisfy our taste buds and don’t really nourish our bodies – that’s why we keep eating,” I said.


“That stuff’s got all them hormones,” she said.


“I know. I try to get back to basics as much as I can.”


“You got to,” she said.


“We know what to do, we just gotta do it,” I said.


She agreed.





Granddad’s Optimism – from A to Zinc

Granddad’s Optimism – From A to Zinc


What are you doing for Father’s Day?

I’m thanking God for my paternal granddad, who inspires me from A to Zinc! Since a blood transfusion he had during surgery in the 1990s, he’s had absolutely no taste in his mouth. But he is optimistic that his sense of taste will return.

Granddad will be 94-years-old next month. He’s lived a good hearty life, but the past few years have been challenging beyond denial. He’s become more fussy than before. He’s got aches in his hips, past heart attacks and strokes that must come to mind every now and then. He’s become the care-taker for his wife (his love, joy and partner of more than 70 years). But he believes his taste buds can be restored.

Grandma said God took away Granddad’s taste buds because his mouth had been so foul for so long. He had cussed and fussed at her. He used to call her “heifer,” she told me. “God fixed his mouth,” she said.

I had laughed and joked with him about his loss of taste. “Granddad I can cook for you now!” I said once, laughing. He had teased me about my cooking spaghetti every time I invited them to my home for dinner. When I baked him a chicken with rosemary, he laughed at my attempt at gourmet cooking.

“What’s these weeds in the chicken?” he teased.

Granddad had been an executive chef for Marriott Corp., where he worked 40 years before retiring, and pleasing his pallet had seemed impossible until he lost his taste buds.  He eventually learned to appreciate the love and effort that went into preparing a meal though. Since Grandma’s life-threatening surgery three years ago, Granddad’s been cooking all their meals, and Grandma has complained that his food lacks flavor, a criticism I imagine must have cut to the bone.  On Sundays, he treats her to a hearty meal from their favorite soul food carry-out and sometimes takes her out to a restaurant when he can get a ride. (He’s 94 and lost his driving privileges last year.)

Earlier this month, on our way to church, he mentioned that his doctor is prescribing a new agent to revive his taste buds.

“My doctor’s going to start me on Zinc,” Granddad said. “She said that’s going to bring my taste buds back.”

“After 30 years?!?” I said, not intending to sound doubtful. “You’ll have to let me know how that goes. If your taste buds come back, that’ll be something for me to remember forever.”

On the way home from church I decided I would make another spaghetti dinner for him for Father’s Day. If his taste buds are back, he will fully appreciate the flavors. If his taste buds are still absent he may appreciate the zest of my mere effort. At the very least, he will get another chuckle out of me offering another meal of spaghetti.






Go Ahead and Cry

How was your weekend? Mine was great!

Saturday morning I was power-praise walking through my neighborhood. It’s my favorite exercise. I gear up in work-out clothes, strap on wrist and/or ankle weights and stride evenly along the sidewalks, exercising my body while soaking in inspiration from surrounding forestry, neighbors’ flower gardens, and children playing in front the Cul-de-sac in front of their homes. This Saturday morning inspiration came from a small boy who fell off his bike.

I was walking, thinking about better managing my emotions so they don’t swell up inside leaving me vulnerable to crying or breaking down at the most inopportune times.

I walked past honeysuckle, enjoyed the sweet fragrance, but was reminded of my mean maternal grandmother who had called me a crybaby when I was about eight because I cried when I fell and skinned my knee. When I was about 13 and complained about the cold draft from the window she wouldn’t close, she’d called me a “heifer.” My paternal Grandmother, as loving and well-intentioned as she was, had warned me against feeling sad when my grandfather died. She had told me to use what was in my head, not what was in my heart to get on with life. As a young journalist I had been compelled to be “objective” and dispassionate. Just the facts. Deal with only the facts.

But being whole, healthy and vibrant now depending on me acknowledging and accepting all aspects of myself – emotions, included.

I walked on, enjoying the warmth of the sun pouring through clear blue sky, and the tweeting and chirping of birds. I noticed a tiny yellow bird and felt delightful. I remembered that I had a chart of emotions at home. It was a chart I bought to use teaching English to immigrants last year. I would use the chart to help them express their feelings in English. I would ask them to point to the picture on the chart expressing the emotions they were feeling that day then write why they were feeling that way. This turned out to be a good ice-breaker at the beginning of the semester  and a good warm-up activity. I decided to use this chart addressing my own emotions each day until acknowledging and accepting them – without judgment or penalty – became easy, natural.

I was strolling when I heard a boy’s happy squeals, “Dad look! A butterfly!” I looked across the street to where he was. Next thing I knew the boy was flat on the ground, his legs tangled around the metal bike frame. I ran to him, “Ooops. Are you ok?” He was too startled to cry – at first. I began helping him untangle as his father quickly set his bike on its stand, removed his helmet and rushed to his son’s rescue. He picked up his small child, while another child riding with them looked on. (It all happened very fast).

He clutched the boy to his chest and allowed him to cry on his shoulder. The boy buried his head at his father’s neck, seemingly more embarrassed than anything, and cried.

“What hurts?” his father asked. “Tell me where it hurts.”

I remembered when parents beat a child then scolded them for crying – and believed they were doing the right thing – disciplining and toughing their offspring for the harsh cruel world they would have to face. I remembered fathers teaching their sons, “men don’t cry!” I remembered being happy when Michael Baisden came out with a book titled “Men Cry in the Dark,” and Bishop T.D. Jakes’ message: “I want everyone to forget about stereotypes and know that real mean have emotions, cry…”

I’d spent years hiding, denying and analyzing my emotions rather than simply accepting them as part of my human experience.

I resumed my praise walk, thanking God for showing me such compassion when – and where – I least expected it.