This will be my August contribution to NWTC’s “What’s Cooking.” Not that it has anything to do with ‘cooking,’ but I feel there is an oblique relationship, at least from the standpoint of ‘edibility.”
Although Irish, or perhaps because I am so, potatoes didn’t much appeal to me growing up; but, I surely liked digging them out of the ground. At that time of the year, moving on towards late summer, grandma would say after breakfast, on one of those days, “Potatoes should be ready.”
“Can I dig, grandma? Can I?”
“Yah, Grab the shovel from the garatch then… Go on,” she’d say, waving her hand.
Grandpa and Grandma lived on S. 10th St. in Bismarck, ND. My grandfather was an immigrant from what he called “White Russia.” He came over in 1917 during the Bolshevik Revolution. He never talked about it; and because he’s long since passed away, all the questions I wished I’d have asked have turned to a melancholy regret over the loss of a unique snapshot of history.
South tenth street is residential, with homes (half of which my grandfather built) on either side of the block, but the sole purpose of the hundred foot lot on which they built their house was production. On the far south side was a small neighborhood grocery store, the kind that ceased to exist fifty years ago. Grandpa built the grocery store, and all the other homes on the block with wood framing and stucco exterior. My mother and her siblings worked in the grocery as they grew up. During the depression, many families ran up large tabs, and around the time of the Second World War, one day, grandpa took the stacks of credit slips that had accumulated over the years and threw them away. “We don’t need this,” he told his kids.
Other than the house, grocery, detached “garatch”, a single lane driveway to the back yard, and a postage stamp boulevard that Grandpa would mow weekly with a rotary push mower, there was nothing but garden. And to grandma, gardens were meant to produce. There was no attempt at aesthetics, other than potted flowering plants in the bay window of the living room, next to Dickey, the caged parakeet—perhaps for Dickey’s benefit more than any other’s. Anything outside, growing from out of the ground was either edible, or a weed. I could walk outside at any hour of any day and find Grandma or Grandpa, or Uncle Don in the gardens, working. Occasionally, I’d find Uncle Leo, a retired pharmacist, holding a garden hose with an air of distaste, pinky finger elevated slightly from the lever, trying not to let water splatter on his shoes.
I don’t remember liking too much about gardening, sympathizing more with Uncle Leo than anyone else—it seemed to me as though there was too much time spent standing in one place. But, I did like digging. One afternoon Grandma gave me a shovel and pointed to a rare bare spot between the apple tree and shuttered up grocery, “Go dig all you want…git it out’er yer system,” she said. I started digging, enlisting the aid of my cousin, Heidi. We dug for about a week, what, at the end, amounted to a grave; but without anything to bury. We found some coins and a silver spoon. So when grandma asked me to get the shovel to go dig up potatoes, I was off like a shot.
Sweet peas, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, ground cherries, radishes, kohlrabi, squash, corn are the things I remember. After I grew up, my trips to south Bismarck became infrequent. The grocery store had long since disappeared, but the space where it stood was filled in with edible green plants of one type or another. Everything looked small. Grandpa and Grandma are gone. Don and Leo have cut back on the gardening. Standing in the back yard a few years ago, I looked for the spot where I’d buried a small wooden box of silver coins, but could never find again, and I wondered what grandma would think of my garden.
I didn’t think she’d approve. I had no doubt that Sue and I worked as hard as Grandma and Grandpa, and Uncle Don in our gardens; however, the similarity ended there. Our garden is like the inverse of grandma’s—an opposite garden. The entire focus of our garden is aesthetic, and in fact a number of our plants will kill ya’ if you eat them. We have a few potted herbs in the garden window and on the deck—but that’s the extent of our productivity. We do have a few tough-skinned Concord grape vines, and two cherry trees. Yesterday, I stood next to one of the cherry trees, balanced on a crutch and managed to reach a blackish cherry from the top. It was firm and sweet. I thought of grandma, and smiled—she’d approve of this.
Yesterday, in Target, Evie asked me if she could have a “God Necklace.” She had been wearing a cross pendant around the house of Sue’s, but she thought it was too big for her. She alternatively referred to it as a “Jesus Necklace.” I prefer “God Necklace” more. Well, what could I say to that? I couldn’t possibly say to her that no, she could not have a “God Necklace,” so we found one–a nice, pink, sterling silver, small-girl sized one. She is wearing it in the above picture.
Evie tells me that God is “Someone special.” “He lives up in Heaven,” she says. When I asked her what he looks like, she said that she didn’t want to tell me. I asked, “but, you know what he looks like?” She smiled and nodded.
Since I’m still non-weight-bearing, I used the motorized scooter in Target. About half-way through our vist Evie asked Sue, “I wonder how I might help Grandpa,” while looking pointedly at the scooter. This was the result.
I finished Irving’s latest novel this morning. I’ve read all of his books. I liked some more than others. I wonder what is biographical and what isn’t; for instance, there is always a significant role played be a bear. “Twisted River” isn’t a very linear book, but it was still well written and easy to follow and flip back and forth. Often times within a page you would be thirty or more years apart. Towards the end (I mean really at the end) I got a valuable clue about how he must write (I imagine it to be true), and that is by starting at the end. He says something about how can you write if you don’t know where you’re going.
All of his books are tragic, most with a somewhat happy ending, if perhaps bittersweet (emphasis on bitter), and this is no different. It was a lovely ending, but you find yourself wishing that it didn’t have to take so long. Three fourths or so of the way through the book, one of the characters dies and it was that kind of a part of a book where you must stop so that the emotional impact can attenuate to the point where it is safe to read on. I found the ending to be of a similar impact, only in reverse.
My main problem with the book is the obvious fact that J. Irving suffers mightily from Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS). There are snippets of BDS throughout the book that are easy enough to overlook; but, the last fifty pages are packed with BDS that have no part in the story other than a J. Irving rant in which he insults everyone who doesn’t share his liberal left wing-nut viewpoint–he’s the only smart one who “gets it;” everyone else is a stupid, fucking idiot (I think this is fairly verbatim, but I refuse to re-read it for clarification).
Bottom line is that I salute J. Irving, despite his extremist views, because he has a knack for touching the reader in that special place that mass market pulp fiction writers rarely do. This is what I admire about him, and a few other authors that readily come to mind, like Wally Lamb and the guy who wrote “Cutting for Stone,” Abraham Verghese. I only wish I could do it.
It was a big day for Evie; at least as busy as it could be for a little girl with a one-legged caregiver; but then, Sue did provide significant assistance upon her return from work, allowing a means of transportation. We drove up to Fish Creek for dinner, listening to Justin Bieber, or, as Evie calls him, Justin Beaver. I never new JB existed until this weekend. Apparently he’s a 16 yo heartthrob, although, to me, he looked a touch prepubescent, and much to old for my six-year old Precious, who I would rather be watching Road Runner and Bugs Bunny–violence be dammed.
Evie is a yoga master, thanks to her friend next door, Hannah. Sue and I were listening to the sounds of “Switchback,” a group that I like very much. I was wearing my “Switchback” tee-shirt and felt kind of like a groupie, which is fine. Evie was sitting on the blanket in front of us when she slipped into the lotus position and begin humming. She obliged us by turning around.
Wax on, Wax off
Oh…to be young and supple. Prior to my injury, I’d been working on flexibility, including the lotus, for over a year, and I’m not even close. I remember golfing with an old gentleman, who was a close friend of my dad’s. He was called Rueben, and I think he was in his mid-eighties. Reuben was quite arthritic, and he had a terrible dorsal kyphosis (hunched back), and because of that, his back swing was limited, stiff, and plain un-natural to my 16 yo eyes. Then I’d step up, address the ball, wind up, and blast the ball off the tee, twisting my body like a corkscrew. Of course, my ball would generally go a considerable distance on either side of the fairway (usually right), but Reuben would stand there and shake his head back and forth, whispering, “Oh…to be young and supple.” In all the times I golfed with Reuben, I never beat him.
Our fish appreciate Evie’s visit very much, as they eat exeptionally well.
Although minus one leg, I was able to manage Precious for most of the day. We watched one movie, and then spent the afternoon cooking with her Easy Bake Oven. Evie made six cookies and one yellow cake with chocolate frosting, which was about the size of a cookie. It only took us 2 1/2 hours. When we were done with the cookies, I asked, “wanna eat one.”
“Yeah,” smiled Evie somewhat shyly, as though they were to be saved and hoarded for some future day.
“Can I have one too?”
“Sure.” She quietly considered the plate of six cookies, irregularly shaped, most of them pie-shaped because the cookies all ran together. (Admittedly, I was a poor instructor–forgetting to spray the first effort with Pam; but thankfully still magaging to remove the cake in one piece–if a little crumbly) Then she picked a rather thin, brownishly-burned cookie, the smallest of the lot, for me; and a pristine, only slightly browned one, the largest of the lot, for herself.