Chloe observes all from her spot on the lawn, sporting her pink polka-dotted cat-eyed sunglasses and a thick layer of sunscreen.
“That was a tough job,” she says periodically throughout the proceedings. She quickly dispenses of the bucket of water she was given to play with, and joins us to dig up the lawn, trowel in hand, “rescuing” the worms that have been unceremoniously dug up and disposing of the many rocks that seem to be growing in the dirt.
Brian has a head that’s shaved bald, so sweat just beads up on his skin and rolls onto his face, stinging his eyes with salt and sunscreen. I think he sweats a lot. He insists he sweats no more than anyone else; it’s just that everyone else has hair to soak it up. Perhaps this is true. Whether it is true or not, though, I will give him this: In the almost 12 years we’ve been together, he’s never smelled anything less than shower fresh, even after a couple days of camping, even after playing nine innings of baseball on Sunday mornings. I don’t know how he does it, but I challenge any other lady to be able to say that about her man.
Brian puts on a hat to soak up his head sweat, and soon, we’ve dug a beautiful square of dirt. We pound in the four sides of the raised bed and pat ourselves on the back. Since our previous attempts at planting eggplant and tomatoes in smaller patches right next to our steps and directly into the ground resulted in cracked and blighted-looking fruit, we fill the garden with the contents of four 30-pound bags of lovely, rich, black garden soil that promises to feed our vegetables for three months! And grow them twice as big!
“Why are there so many sticks and stuff in there?” Brian demands. He sounds cheated. I don’t know why they’re there; maybe for drainage. I have heard drainage is important in such matters. He seems appeased by this explanation, so we smooth the soil out, making it clump free and even. Suddenly possessed and overcome by the beauty by this wide expanse of dirt, Chloe frantically hops over the raised bed wall and into the newly dug garden plot, planting herself right in the middle. I ask if she’s a vegetable and whether she wants me to fry her in butter for dinner. She laughs gleefully at this proposition, but hops out.
We plant only the six healthiest-looking squash and zucchini plants, plus some of the beets, a few more beat seeds, and a bean plant that Chloe and I started on a lark in a plastic bag in the window, but which is now growing like, well, a weed. We also plant carrot seeds. I mean, we “direct sow”carrot seeds. I have to remember to use the right lingo here. I am delighted that the carrots can be planted every two weeks throughout the season to ensure an ongoing crop. We save the lettuce for another day. Brian keeps telling me that his grandfather grew lettuce in bathtubs, but somehow I think a bathtub on the lawn would raise the ire of the condo people, so we’ll hold out for metal buckets.
I have visions—maybe delusions—of our summer; of walking out the back door and plucking the ingredients for that night’s dinner off of the bushes with a serene smile on my face, looking like the beautiful, peaceful earth mama that I wish I could be. Of making enough zucchini bread and jars of beautifully pickled beets and whatever the hell you do with carrots to last us the whole, long, cold, winter. I am a good cook, if nothing else.
“Is four-feet-by-four-feet enough space to grow all of that stuff?” a friend asks me at a party later that night.
“I don’t know,” I confess, to a chorus of laughter. I wish my gardening career didn’t begin with so many people laughing at my ineptitude. But even if the garden doesn’t end well, it’s not like I won’t be able to feed myself. I can still drive to the grocery store.