peaches and plantings
Yesterday, my entire family headed over to see my grandparents. Though they live in a crowded neighborhood in Charlotte, they have a plant lover’s paradise for their backyard. In one corner of the yard, they keep assorted containers, which range from disposable pots to cracked pottery to the tin box the milk man used to deliver to their door step, the odd blueberry bush poking out of some of the pots. My grandparents seem to just attract plants, and have an almost magical touch with them. “Oh, that one?” my grandmother will say, pointing at a massive, flourishing shrub, covered in flowers, “The lady down the street dug it up and had it down at the curb. I thought it was dead, but was worth a try.” “Those?” she’ll say, commenting on a beautiful bed full of leafy plants, “Oh, Cam’s dad gave her a couple strawberry plants, and she didn’t have the time, so she just gave them to us. They just sort of multiplied, I guess.” They have a long strip of soil down the back of their yard, where I can remember, year after year, helping them pick green beans and squash and collard greens and tomatoes. But my favorite things in their yard (and consequently the world) were their peaches. They now have four peach trees, but the big one in the front was always my special place. It was understood that if I went missing from the house, I would have climbed the peach tree, and would be sitting as high up as I could get, eating every peach my arm could reach. I remember one summer visit when I ate nothing but peaches, potato chips and venison the entire week (one of best culinary weeks of my life). Those visits set it in stone for me: peaches were my favorite fruit in the entire world. But somehow, after I went home to Texas and the cravings hit me, I could never find a peach at the store that tasted as good as the ones from that tree. Maybe it was the feeling of that sun-warmed skin so full to bursting that if your fingernail punctured it, it would spurt sweet, sticky liquid all over your hand. Maybe it was the feeling of that rough, rough tree bark under my bare feet. Maybe it was the fun of watching the bees and spiders and ants. Maybe it was the potato chips. Maybe it was the combination of all of them. I don’t know, but I’ve learned to just wait until they’re in season at Grammy and Pop’s. Then I make frequent trips to my grandparents’ house (easier to do, now that we’ve moved) to gorge myself on the fruit, and the amazing ice cream Grammy makes from it. It’s not quite that time of year yet, but yesterday we pulled up to a peach tree full of the most beautiful blossoms. And I just couldn’t help myself. The second I could get away, I kicked my shoes off and clambered up into the tree and just sat, surveying the blooms like a miser surveys his gold. Every blossom, every single, beautiful, blushing pink blossom, would be a peach.
Oh, was life ever good.
And it just got better. As it happens every spring, their porch was filled with young tomato plants and red bell pepper seedlings. The collards are already growing well outside, and the strawberries are just beginning to flower. And I nearly died looking at it all. If there are two people in my world that understand the pangs of separation felt when not gardening, it is my mother and my grandmother. I think that Mama must have confided in Grammy that my green thumb was shrivelling up and turning brown and that I got depressed every time I saw a seed catalogue, because the next thing I knew, I was following my grandmother around the yard, having little slips of this and little you-can-take-it-home-and-root-it bits of that pushed into my arms, along with a superfluity of pots. I was absolutely giddy. We didn’t get home until eight at night, but the second we got home I headed onto the porch and potted begonias and aloe and rosemary and lamb’s ear and several gorgeous plants that everyone loves but has forgotten the name to. I know I spilled potting soil all over the porch, and that I didn’t prep the rosemary for rooting like I should have. I also know that our very sophisticated neighbor will probably come out on his deck later with his espresso and laptop and will die of a serious case of seeing dirt, but at the moment I don’t really care.
I’ve made my peace with our relocation, gotten my fingernails very, very dirty, and have held in my hands real, fragile, green life. And it was very good. Now all I have to do it wait for peach season.
Live long and drink coffee,