Nature's Trinities

There’s a time for tough love. “You have to earn your keep,” I warned my small, adolescent orchard last summer. “If you don’t produce next year, I’ll dig you up to play Croquet.”  
           Our dwarf peach, apple, pear, and sour cherry trees blossomed this spring—the cherry and peach abundantly. My mouth watered for cherry pie a la mode, the first dessert I imagined in succession of four fruit trees concluding with apple in September.
Dear Reader, my idea didn’t materialize. June’s drought drifted into July. I poked through the net covering the cherry tree to pick three, puny berries, taste enough to know what I was missing.
With long slurps from our garden hose, the other three trees developed fruit. I mulched their roots with our lavender clippings during harvest, fussed over the Red Havens as they turned color true to their name. My first peach crop since thirty years ago, a Red Haven from my dad, I inspected the fruit gingerly to avoid premature drops.
Saturday, after the blessed, overdue downpour Friday night, I found three peaches under the tree, one bruised and split. The tree wouldn’t let her bounty go.
Tickled with my gifts, I carried them up the garden steps into the kitchen and considered my history with Nature’s trinities. Most spontaneously and intimately, our three offspring came to mind. Father, mother, child: an unbreakable band, beyond death. I am three in one: child, spouse, parent. Flesh, soul, and spirit sustained by earth, water, and air.
As earwigs emerged from the damaged peach, time ticked through past, present, and future. This second is the present to become the past as the future becomes present. Continuously, elementary particles work in trinities. Three quarks form protons, neutrons, and electrons to form atoms that produce a periodic table for all humanity: Negroid, Mongoloid, and Caucasian.
I removed the bruised core, peeled and consumed the salvaged peach. Its imperfect appearance had no effect upon its juicy flavor. I sliced the other two peaches into small bowls, marinated them in blackberry wine from the Smith-Berry Winery in New Castle, Kentucky. 
After our meal of Shepard's Pie, sautéed collard greens, and roasted tomatoes, the chilled peaches concluded our meal like the lingering note of Madame Butterfly’s aria, Un bel di.
Today, Sunday, a surprise visit from our youngest daughter took us to the vegetable garden. We harvested Turkey Craw stringed beans, cauliflower, and tomatoes, a bagful of colors from the primary red, green, and blue.
We concluded our reaping in the raspberry patch where she found a beautiful dragonfly in the top netting. My daughter zoomed in and shot some pictures with her ever-present intelligent phone.
“I think the dragonfly is snared,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
“They don’t usually hang around this long.”
After observing the insect’s beautiful anatomy, I lifted the net.
“Be careful, Mom.”
The dragonfly flew away.
“Look at it go!” my daughter said.
In God’s design of trinities, there’s a time for such blissful tenderness. Faith, hope, charity. The greatest of these is love. Tough, or tender.

Funerals and Philosophy

The church my grandfather Floyd McCoy built my grandmother
In principio erat verbum

Commonly, it’s where we come from and how we relate to those places and people that fix our faith and points of view. For instance, a kindergarten transplant from eastern Kentucky, I’d never met a Catholic or saw a Roman Catholic church before my parents moved our family to Detroit. The soaring steeples along Woodward and Gratiot Avenues were mammoth compared to Granny’s one-room church house. I thought the Catholics rich, yet knew my grandmother wasn’t poor.
          My parents weren’t churchgoers, didn’t instruct my sisters and me in the Bible. Nonetheless, every summer, Granny preached the Gospel in her words and deeds. The Scriptures followed her everywhere. She turned thanks over meals. And before we drove away from her Appalachian door for Michigan, she petitioned the Lord's protection over us.
When I was nine, we moved to 25708 Wagner in Warren. A yellow bus appeared in front of our house every Friday night for Pioneer Girls, and Sunday morning for Sunday school and worship service.  A smiling man opened the door to my older sister and me. Verna Wilson, my Pioneer Girl guide, gifted me my first study Bible after I was baptized. Mrs. Urban passed butterscotch Lifesavers down the row for her worship service orphans.
I’m thankful Mom trusted my formative years to the church bus. Van Dyke Baptist Church was my haven. Meanwhile, I watched bulldozers develop my favorite neighborhood swamp into St. Dorothy Roman Catholic Church. The Halaas kids, two doors down, passed our picture window Saturday morning en route to catechism.
After little Pammy Halaas died of leukemia, my family followed hers into St. Dorothy for her funeral. All I remember is Mr. Halass’ pitiful lamentation as he walked behind her casket.
Almost sixty years later, my husband and I attended a funeral mass yesterday for a brother-in-law’s mother. As a boy, he rode his bike past our house to St. Dorothy, fell in love with one of my younger sisters. They married while in college. Like mine, theirs wasn’t a Catholic wedding.
Having experienced my mother-in-law’s funeral mass last September, I recognized the liturgy, the songs sung like opera arias. “How lovely is your dwelling place, mighty God, oh Lord of all,” and “He will lift you up on eagle’s wings.” I scribbled down the Latin words inscribed on the pulpit to translate later.
In the lobby, a small delegation of gray-headed men from our old neighborhood gathered around my brother-in-law for the man slap on his back. “We’re next,” one said. They recalled Wagner’s bully who happened to be a girl, reminisced the remarkable place and time in which we grew up. “It began to fall apart with the shot in Dallas,” said the eldest man amongst us.
Dear Reader, I’m not qualified to respond to his philosophy. Rather, I hold fast to the Latin on the pulpit. “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Peace be with you.

The Gazpacho Miracle

My first year growing garlic, I unearthed forty huge bulbs a few weeks ago. What beauty to behold! Like Barbara Kingsolver says in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, “Even the smallest backyard garden offers emotional rewards in the domain of the little miracle.”
Kingsolver also speaks of braiding her onion and garlic stems in “heavy plaits” and hanging them from her kitchen mantel. Now, that’s a vision a woman could covet if not careful.
          My garlic stems and bulbs hang in our pavilion where hundreds of lavender bundles dried until last summer. Isn’t this simply glorious? We’re free to grow something new, smell contrasting scents. Experiment with pairing flavors. There’s nothing boring about growing and cooking healthy, tasty food.
           My Uncle Tab’s untiring and hilarious culinary personality confirms my point. At age 83, he’s in a breading and frying streak. His tomatoes weren’t ripe when my husband and I visited him and my aunt in Lexington last week, so he directed from his golf cart which green tomatoes I was to pick.
I sliced. He fried—in olive oil and garlic, of course. Delicious.
“Fried cucumbers are good, too,” Uncle Tab said.
           He apologized for seeing us off to his older brother’s house with nary a ripe, juicy tomato. I was disappointed, for the thought of making gazpacho had crossed my mind several times this sweltering summer.
           The deeper we drove into the heart of Appalachia’s Peter Creek, hundreds of lush gardens grew for simple folk who’ve known for generations the rewards of planting seed. Theirs is the domain of little miracles.
          When we reached the McCoy Bottom, Uncle Herm had several large, homegrown tomatoes on his kitchen counter. We strolled by his vegetable gardens, tomato vines blackened and withered, heavy with ripe fruit.
          Uncle Herm shook his head. “Honey, I don’t know what happened to my tomato plants.”
          A widower and misfit in the kitchen, Uncle Herm prefers the food and social life of the local senior center to cooking for himself. So my husband and I dined at Hornet’s, the local restaurant in Phelps, the settlement where Granny lived and grew a garden for four decades.
          Later, Mel and I agreed there’s nothing like Uncle Tab’s cooking, and decided to accept his invitation for lunch on our drive back home.
         Uncle Herm loaded us up with a bag of tomatoes for his brother, and one for us. “Tell Tab I love him,” he said. “It’s just the two of us now.”
         A sad reality, I considered myself blessed to be the tomato bearer, to sit once again with Uncle Tab and Aunt Alma Leigh, commune with them and the produce from his gardens. He jabbed a piece of melon with his fork. “This cantaloupe was the size of Herman’s head!”
        Thanks to Uncle Herm, there’s a jar of gazpacho marinating in my refrigerator, one of many emotional benefits from two men who love me, teach me how to grow and cook good food.
        Dear Reader, mine is the domain of little miracles.

Birthrights and Birthmarks

Beets from Yule Love It's Vegetable Garden
I must remember this July twilight of absolute contentment, the stroll from our vegetable garden uphill, lush beet greens cradled in my arm. Must never forget the four eggs resting in the moat of the hens’ water feeder hanging from my other hand. Our menopausal girls labor awful hard to provide our protein.
Granny comes to mind, my childhood glimpse of her walking down her Appalachian alley, holding a limp chicken by its feet. She did all her butchering for our fried chicken by stealth—never saw her harm anything save flies, gnats, and roaches.
I sit in my swing under breezy maple branches, watch lightning bugs and ponder my birthright. What on earth took me so long to grow my own food, to know such pleasure? To learn there’s healing in the leaves above?
My grandmother understood that cure, read the Bible through many times—Deuteronomy 20:19, “for the tree of the field is man’s life.” I found the verse just last week and believe it wholeheartedly.
Uncle Herm, one of Granny’s sons, appears with his brother Tab in my long processional of ancestral farmers. They’ve all played their part in leading me back to the land. Glory gleams in Uncle Herm’s eyes as he walks from his garden, buckets full of sweet corn and beans. It’s the best feeling in the world to walk in my uncles’ footsteps.
The scent of beets begs for my mother who often served them pickled, one of my favorite foods—according to my taste buds, the closest flavor to rich, composted earth.
Mom would be tickled to see the hole in the left knee of my favorite garden jeans. Thistles, mulch, and grit consumed the cloth and exposed my skin to living microbes from the likes of decomposed sheep and chicken dung. Nematodes, scientists call them, organic bacteria dark enough to stain my skin as they did my mother’s, grandmother’s, great-grandmother’s—ages way back to Eve.   
Mind, my garden guides have come from various communities. Local farm girl Teemie Eschenburg, for instance, who introduced me to chicken manure tea. And there’s novelist and poet Marge Piercy. Years ago, several fellow writers who had met her said she could be abrasive. However, in her keynote speech during our writer’s conference, she said, “Most people don’t know I grow numerous varieties of tomatoes.”
I still hear the vulnerable love in her voice, an intimacy with food she dared share with a large group of writers she did not know. Her words quicken my inheritance with the spirit of my ancestors, encourage me to persist with growing and preserving the fruit of my land with labor of my hands.
Dear Reader, as Eve entered her bower, I step into my dark kitchen, the end of another magnificent, productive day. I remember this Paradise is the birthright of all her children. If we do not forfeit this promise for another place, we will know the pleasure of our Maker’s birthmark upon our bended knee.