Small Thumbs

As I strained to turn over the large square patch of sod, the younger one eagerly started to smack it with his child-sized hoe as if it were a piñata. The dirt that crumbled off the back of it, managed to fill up my right boot to the half way mark. As I turned it over to scratch more of the dirt off, he bent over the bare spot and looked at the variety of earthworms, desperately try to wriggle back down into the soil and surely wondering what the hell had just happened.

More worms! Look a baby one!

Your right! Keep them in there; they will help the garden out. Pick one up

No. Worms can’t sting you though. And they don’t have a mouth, just eyes and two butts.

He sat there looking at the poor things, shoveling fistfuls of snack into his mouth. Watching in earnest their movements, and making sure they were not getting too close to him.

On the campus where we are currently living, I have been given the particular golden opportunity to re-develop an overgrown garden plot nestled between an old nursery, a green house, a lawn and a line of tall pine trees. Having employed both goats in the fall to clear the brambles back, and students to clear what the goats had left, I was astonished to find myself loading over a few hundred feet of beds. As is common with some planters, I found myself with even more plants than this would house, so we began in earnest to pry up a few more feet of grass to extend the length and width.

Having gotten bit by the gardening bug once we became homeowners, I found that the bite mark was only swelling up now that I lived on acres of a school campus. With dirt and compost seemingly on call, and space and time on my hands, I have become sort of an addict. And now found myself desperate to get the boys as invested in being in the garden as much as I was.

Growing up in Vermont, it would be fair to say that my Mother’s vast flower and vegetable gardens shaped my childhood and adolescence. The peppered beds of daylilies and hosta were the backdrops to many a boy hood adventure. As I grew, my brother and I would often be sent to the garden to harvest beans or carrots for supper. I have an aversion to fresh tomatoes because of a faint memory of an incident where a rotten one one was thrown on me. And then there was the day my mother got so mad at us for sitting down in the lower acre, and eating every sweat pea we could find right off the vine.

Dad are we going to water the baby plants?

The younger one was clearly starting to get antsy. Watering was about the only thing I can offer to him or his brother that holds any interest. However, with only one hose, I have quickly learned that whoever gets handed the hose first tends to be the one that keeps it. The other one will gingerly try to reach over and over for it, only to recoil and run when it is turned in their direction.

Sorry bud, it rained this morning, and the plants are already really wet. We don’t want to drown them.


He dropped his shoulders and sauntered over to the brush pile in the pine trees, to look for another sword, and I realized that I would have to button up digging out sod until I could steal another hour of time.

The pavers of sod were cresting over the sides of the wheelbarrow as I began to push it off into the forest. I felt the muscles in my back strain as I tried to keep up the speed and balance of the barrow as it careened down the forest path to the spot where I had been tossing the heavy squares in the hopes of smothering spring return of the ivy shoots. I could start to feel the tendons in my legs and arms twisting like the green branches of a sapling. I knew there would be hell to pay for trying to rush and squeeze in as much time as I could.

Not to be outdone by my mother, my father took over some of the gardening operations. However, with his load of lawn mowing and tree care, he had to stick to the one or two big crops. Pumpkins were always a crowd pleaser, but I remember the years of potatoes he tried out. We would all often be called down to the field to assist in pest control. Armed with tweezers and a pill bottle of gasoline, we were trained to pick off the potato beetles, and drop them into the bottle. Not exactly organic farming, but a good solution never the less, as we were rewarded with fresh starchy potatoes in the late summer.

As I return from the woods pushing the empty wheelbarrow up the slope, I go over in my head what I still want to try to get done. Turn the soil in the new bed, add compost and fresh topsoil. Get the radish starts in with the carrot seeds. Weed the garlic beds and cut a new boarder. Never seems to be enough time.

The younger one has come back with a sword, and uses it to knock out the rest of his snack cup into the garden. I watch as he takes his stick and pulls dirt over the bits and pieces. He then moves over to examine the umbrella sized leaves of a recently re-discovered rhubarb plant, which according to some of the grounds crew, is older than myself. I can see him sorting out whether it’s even real or not with its gargantuan leaves and bright red stalks. He stops to itch his butt and shoots a puzzled at a small purple artichoke shooting through frosty green leaves. I can tell he is wondering the same thing as I: how does one go about eating that?

I cannot expect them to readily love something I only recently discovered that I myself love. It was something I surely took for granted growing up. Always seeing my mother pour time into her plantings, but never seeing the connection she was making. When my parents sold my childhood home, I went back to help where I could. I can remember walking the property to say a tearful farewell to decades of memories. It was when seeing my mother’s buckets of plants that she was taking with her to her new garden something clicked. One doesn’t simply plant things because they’re nice to look at, or because they are fun to eat. No, it seems a true gardener creates some sort of connection with something much deeper, and tries their best to make some sort of imprint with it.

Dad, let’s goooooooo…

Ok. Let me pick up.

I close my eyes and wipe away sweat from my face, feeling the dirt from my work gloves smear across my skin. I can picture what I can only hope the garden will look like in the next couple of months. Rows of tomatoes, a tee-pee of beans. Broccoli and a row of sweet peas. Egg plants, summer melon, and squash. Cucumbers climbing over the lattice, with bush beans.

And if my son’s attempt works, a fruity cheerio tree right in the middle.


About D.Jeinkins

a married father of two boys, trying in desparation to preserve his sanity
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