My uncle Porter is 93 years old. He wrecks a car every few years but doesn’t drink anymore, goes to church every Sunday and reminds me whenever he sees me that he thought I’d grow up to be taller. But those aren’t the reasons I’m writing about him. I’m writing about him because of his garden.
My great grandmother’s house burned down in the 70s. And Porter built a small house of his own from the ashes that remained. It was more like half a house, really, a two-room spot with a slanted roof. But outside every summer was enough planted produce to feed a small family. Whenever we returned from Powhatan, VA, a country town about an hour away from Richmond, we’d have bags full of fresh tomatoes and green beans, all birthed by the work of his hands.
Over a year ago I was given the gift of an aloe vera plant, one of the first I’d ever owned. There was something about the day to day regimen of watering it and putting in the bi monthly sticks of plant food that I enjoyed. I believed in its growth. And it bloomed. Soon one plant became three, even with the regular use of the plant for healing wounds and facial scrubs. And it’s still got growing to do.
For the past few months I’ve found myself in another place, another house where I do work. There the planters and pots have mostly sick and dying things. So I’ve decided to give them some life in my time there. As I cook, herbs and veggies make the most sense. I’ve always wanted to be able to go out back and just pull some basil out of a pot, or dig up a few potatoes or onions in the harvest months for a big family meal that all can enjoy.
I often feel like this need to grow comes from something beyond myself, a sense of ancestral spirit guiding me through tough times. As so many things are changing, and so much has died, there is true joy in seeing the new sprout forth from the earth. I can only dream of what it’s like when it’s your child that comes into the world, something light years beyond the fruition of created work. As I get older and for the first time feel that strain in the knees or the wear of a walk too long or rest too short, I understand the pride of parenting, in the many forms it takes. Life goes on without you. It’s your job to make sure it grows in the right direction.