“Dee, I’m going to be out in the gardens for a little while.”
Few words seem to strike fear and twinges of anger in Dee than when she hears me say those words this time of the year, especially if she hears the hollow-plastic bumping of gallon ice cream buckets in my hands as I speak.
I imagine hearing the synapses hotly firing in her mind and feel the heat of her over-the-reading-glasses glare from her eyes after those beautiful hazel eyes have rolled once or twice during their diversion from her work to shoot directly through my heart.
A pause, and then through tightened lips, comes her questioning reply, “What, exactly, do you plan to bring back from the gardens?”
I learned long ago to be more specific in my answer than saying, “Oh, just some vegetables,” out of fear of having a couple of the aforementioned empty ice cream buckets jammed onto the oversized gourd that sits upon my shoulders.
“Oh, probably a few green beans,” I answered with a firm confidence.
Something told me that Dee wasn’t buying my response, as I saw our household English education professor scanning the multiple ice cream buckets I was holding. It’s often our joke to laugh about us trying to use numbers in our people-of-letters household, but I knew it wasn’t the time to ask whether she was having trouble counting to four – for fear that having four empty ice cream buckets jammed onto my gourd would be even more painful than two being jammed onto it, as I’d feared seconds earlier.
I put three of the buckets back onto the counter and stepped out of the house carrying only a single bucket. That and the pockets in the sweatshirt and sweatpants I was wearing seemed to safely convey the message that, when I returned to the house, I wouldn’t be carrying an overabundance of vegetables.
Out of fairness, I’ll mention here that Dee truly loves the vegetables I grow around the ever-present weeds in my gardens. She expresses great joy in making them staples of our diet this time of the year, and even late into winter with those that we manage to preserve. She joined my excitement when we arrived at this old farm that we’d have plenty of Eimon Ridge space to create gardening goodness.
She smiled about my gardening and the gardens Erling Eimon still maintained across the road, on land that had been part of his family’s homestead here.
But she reminds me that even the best of things have their limits and that a semblance of moderation can be a good thing – even where great-tasting and nutritious fresh vegetables are concerned.
Maybe things would be different if we’d set different unspoken parameters about how the system should work with the vegetables I tote in from the garden. As it is, though, the process has been that I’ll raise and harvest the vegetables, Dee prepares them for eating or preserving and then, together, she and I eat them.
Our system seemed to be working well, as I enjoy my time being close to the soil and Dee enjoys doing things in the kitchen. I certainly know my way around kitchens well enough that I’ll never starve if left to my own devices, but Dee has the magic touches and interests that make her time in the kitchen much better than mine. She’s occasionally even uninvited me from the kitchen, asserting that I get in her way more than I help (though I argue that a guy incessantly trying to steal smooches from his wife is a wonderful part of kitchen-work).
Summer after summer and fall after fall, I’d go to the gardens in the morning and tote my bounty into the kitchen, dumping counter-filling piles of succulent vegetables into the kitchen so they could receive Dee’s tender loving care.
And then, the day of the Great Cucumber Cutoff – also known as Terrible Tomato Tuesday — arrived.
It was that day when Dee looked at the cucumbers and tomatoes I’d just proudly piled onto the counter and said, “Please don’t bring any more vegetables into the house today.”
Not one to always take a hint (really, I thought she was joking), I moseyed up to the garden and refilled my containers with cucumbers, tomatoes and several other sorts of vegetables there. I returned to the kitchen, Dee entering the kitchen just as I was dumping that next heap of goodies onto the counter.
My chest heaved out in my best male caveman-look-at-me-the-mighty-hunter-and-gatherer plumage.
Dee burst into tears.
“I. Told. You. To. Not. Bring. Any. More. Vegetables. Into. The. House. Today,” she said in halting words forced out between gasping sobs.
It took a while – well, maybe a few days, give or take – to make me understand that her being busy with work even when she’s home makes things challenging to the point of overwhelming when I fill the kitchen with so many vegetables. She always manages to deal with those vegetables, but there being too much of a good thing can be real.
I’ve tried to be careful since then, for the protection of her feelings and for my protection from having ice cream pails jammed onto my head. Dee reminds me when we’re buying garden seeds each spring, and provides plenty of cautionary glares as the harvest starts.
Perhaps it was good fortune a couple springs ago when a deer pawed out and ate all of my cucumber plants. I’m fairly sure it was a deer, as I saw some deer tracks and nothing that looked like Dee’s footprints around the emptied soil-mounds where the cucumbers had been growing.
My retired teacher-officiating friend Chuck down by Independence told me not to worry though, because he planted about 1,300 hills of cucumbers that year and he surely could be my replacement-supplier. As he told me about his cukes, I think he also said something about not letting his wife know how many he’d planted.
I worried some that recent morning as the green beans reached the top of my single one-gallon ice cream pail. I’d hoped to keep my promise to Dee about only picking those beans, but I saw a few peppers that really needed to be picked. I’ve worried each day as I carried each day’s cucumber harvest into the house.
And, there were some summer squash that needed to go into the house before they got too big.
And, oh, there were a couple of tomatoes that were perfect for that night’s meal of fried green tomatoes to supplement those many tomatoes that already have ripened.
And some beets to go with the plentiful sweet corn, the peas, the peppers, the cauliflower and the greens.
And…. I stopped picking vegetables for the day, remembering that over-the-glasses look Dee’s hazel eyes had given me only minutes earlier. But I secretly looked forward to the next day’s harvest, and to the okra, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash and turnips yet to come.
— Scott Schultz