Somewhere between climbing in the back of my mom’s Subaru and driving away from my childhood farm and having children of my own, I’d forgotten how good it felt to walk barefoot through a garden, to hold the perfect curve of a freshly laid egg in my hand, to play in the dirt.
“I wonder whether one day my children will feel the same pull backward that I am feeling now,” author Phyllis Theroux wrote at the age of sixty-one in The Journal Keeper. “Does there come a time in most people’s lives when the urge to explore gives way to the lure to return to the first places in our lives? And is this a temptation or a legitimate impulse?”
I’ve been pouring through quite a number of memoirs lately as I finish writing my own. Perhaps it would have been helpful to have read a memoir before beginning, but now that I am nearly two-thirds of the way through writing my family’s story of adopting Ruth, I thought I should see how other people have done it. So I went to the Patten Free Library last week and pulled three memoirs off the shelf including this one.
Theroux’s narrative on growing older is as slow and lilting as paddling a skiff across a tranquil pond, and this particular quote pulled at my oars.
“If only we could buy a farm,” I’ve been saying to my husband more and more often as I think of the sunlit free days of my childhood spent roaming in fields and barns.
However good at gardening my mother may have been, my own efforts have gone to the slugs. Literally. On the first warm weekend of June, I planted my summer squash and zucchini and cucumbers and tomatoes and Swiss chard and green beans two by two, as faithfully as Noah filling his ark. But within two weeks a hoard of marauding garden slugs had eaten them down to the roots.
That is why I was so excited when a friend told me about a nearby farm that welcomed volunteer labor in exchange for vegetables. For two hours each Saturday for the last month, I’ve been helping plant and water and weed and harvest an astonishing assortment of fresh, organic produce and eating it too.
“I don’t know what this is,” I said to my family earlier this week as I served them a spoonful of supple greens sauteed in olive oil and garlic, “but you’re going to eat it because I know where it came from.”
When we’ve worked for what we have, we are more likely to enjoy it. There’s not much value in a bag of frozen French fries, but the strawberries we picked last Friday carried an extra sweetness because my children picked them. Whether I’ll ever have a farm of my own, I don’t know, but Scripture’s many gardening analogies give me hope, like this one:
“The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring,” Isaiah 58:11.
What pulls you back to childhood?