Thursday, July 25, 2002

Ramona :: 1970's

Alex asked, "Where do rhubarbs grow?"

I remember when rhubarb grew in my mother's garden. She baked them into pies. Strawberries, squash, corn, sunflowers, cilantro, and onions grew there too. There are photographs that capture moments and bring to my mind all the sights and sounds of many summers ago. Each snap shot, grainy and small, is like a synapse triggering memories so vivid I am transported back in time. I can smell the pungent squash blossoms, and newly turned dirt. And I can taste each strawberry; one for the bowl, two for my mouth.

In one photograph, we are crouched together, Billy, Mom and I, and at our feet are the zinnias she grew from seeds. The heads of the flowers are big and brightly colored; they match the intensity of the sunlight that makes us squint at the camera. We are in the front yard, beside the driveway, where Dad parked his red pick up. And the ground looks hard and dry. Mom must have been diligent about watering those seeds. She must have worked very hard to make anything grow where it was so dry and harsh.

I recall the green hose, and Billy in drooping diapers, and the look of impish glee on his face. He loved to splash people with the hose, to be in command of the water. We feigned anger when he wouldn't surrender the hose, but I can still hear the laughter that ensued when he sprayed us, or even when we talked about Billy and the garden hose. There must be a picture of him, somewhere, full cheeks dimpled and wet, standing in the overgrown grass by the front porch. He will be smiling so fully, you can feel his joy.

And it was summer when Hans was born. He is in the garden too, and it must be early evening, but still hot enough to wear nothing but diapers. A blanket is spread on the ground. Bill sits proudly beside the baby, who lays next to him. Hans is small, with dark hair and he looks healthy, and even determined. Who could say, then, what he was prepared to do in his life, but his newborn body is decidedly strong and alert.

And there are sunflowers over my head, not in the picture with my brothers, but in my recollections. I remember standing on a chair to look into the face of a sunflower and feel the hard black seeds packed in rows. I remember walking the two or three blocks to the feed store to buy a packet of sweet corn seeds. And I can smell the bales of hay and straw, alfalfa, the chocolates on the counter. I wandered through the tack room, where saddles, boots, and the smell of leather filled the dimly lit space. In the adjoining room were the aquariums, lit and bubbling. The fish pretty and bright. Finally, in the back shed were chicks and ducklings, and stacks of grain sacks and feed. Every bit of the Woodward's Feed Store was captivating. Walking home, with the heat radiating up from the asphalt, I watched the sheep in the pasture across the way.

It is past and present. It is recalling and surrendering. It is immersion. It is so deeply engaging, that I can touch and hear, and smell and feel those places and events.

'Rhubarbs' grow in gardens, where summers are hot, and children are born, and play. They are harvested, with strawberries, and baked into pies, by women who dig in the dirt, rake, and plant seeds, and water and weed, and work very hard to help things grow, even in difficult places. Rhubarbs have poisonous parts. They are not sweet. It takes extra care and effort to allow them to fulfill their potential and become healthy, and good, but some have the patience and love to make it all come together.

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