When I'm Most Like My Mother

A garden dinner in the making

I resemble my mother most on a bright summer Saturday morning. We’re the nearest we’ll ever be on this planet when I transfer clean bed sheets from the washing machine to my laundry basket. She bestows a smile upon me when I slide open the basement door and walk to the clothesline.
I recall our patch of backyard in Warren, Mom snapping out the linen’s wet wrinkles and nodding to me for a clothespin. With three sisters, I was happy to have some time alone with my mother. A typical housewife of her generation, she never played outside with us.  
Even then, I had a sinking feeling I could never hang sheets exactly like Mom.  Her billowing clothesline was a work of art when she finished. The “big” laundry including tablecloths began at the pole. Pillowcases and shorter pieces followed.  To economize clothespins and line, our pajamas and underwear shared a pin with its neighbor.
           It remains a puzzle. Mom was 100% pure Southern, a real McCoy on her daddy’s side. They’re supposed “to move slow as molasses in January.” Not my mother. Not her mother of German heritage. When it came to housework, gardening, and putting up food, they both moved at high speed and productivity.
           I did not inherit that gene. With all the modern kitchen gadgets, I could not and cannot produce the quantity of canned fruits and vegetables in one season that Mom and Granny did.
Speaking of food, after I hung the sheets, my mother followed me to our stringed bean fence. In her golden years, she’d sit and snap lapsful of Uncle Herm’s white-half runners or Uncle Tab’s greasy beans. But she couldn’t countenance Uncle Jim’s Turkey Craws without a frown.
“Jim lets his beans get too full,” Mom would mumble.
On the other hand, my husband who picked beans on the other side of the fence said, “Don’t pull the beans unless they’re full.”
I prefer the flavor of a full kernel—a small point of agreement that serves our supper table of two with peace and gastronomic pleasure come bean season.
When we at last carry a mess of green beans into the kitchen, the pot calls for the southern treatment seasoned with onion, a few small new potatoes, and bacon grease.
That’s when I most resemble my mother of a summer evening. With cast iron skillet in hand, I ask, “How about a garden dinner with cornbread?”
“Sounds good,” Mel replies. “Your mom always had a huge pot of beans on her stove when we visited.”
“And her favorite Silver Queen sweet corn,” I add.
Dear Reader, I have a feeling Mom wouldn’t approve of the local corn we bring home to complete our garden feast. We’ve had to tweak what we grow in our golden years.
Mind, Mom never had to contend with deer. Not in Appalachia. But she once came upon a copperhead in her strawberry patch.
I’m the furthest I’ll ever be on this planet from a copperhead in a strawberry patch. 

Ode to Purslane

Purslane grows through a staple hole in the weed cloth next to cucumbers

This Persistent Earth

She yields to my pull,
releases her bounty,
for I’ve had enough
of her crawling,
sprawling offspring
in my gardens.

Yet, her seed has a will,
worships sun and rain,
appears again without
restraint, forgives
another hand
that prefers cultivation
rather than raw
wild flavor—free
succulent nourishment.

A mother, Earth gives
food for my good
without due respect
for her gift, without
warning for waste
of Portulaca oleracea,
fecund Purslane that finds
Nirvana in my stony
driveway and loamy
lavender fields.

She yields to my pull,
predictable to reproduce
when a seedpod falls,
or a trace
of root in place
to sprout
and grow again.