THE GARDENING EXPERIENCE
He strikes the hoe into red-caked clay over and over. He knows the strokes by heart, churning soil to perfection. Strong sun-calloused arms quickly maneuver the tool around a plant before moving on to the next one. I struggle behind him, wondering how a man in his sixties can be so strong and efficient. Awkwardly, I chip at the ground, trying to break through the unforgiving surface to life-bearing soil beneath. My grandfather already three plants ahead in the row running parallel to my own, I drop to my knees in aggravation and let the hoe fall to my side, a useless prop. Tenderly, I run my fingers through freshly turned up soil and push it around the fragile green stem. My grandfather notices my absence and turns around to find me with my hands in the dirt. He wipes his hand across his brow, leaving a mud-trail on his forehead. Laughing, he says, “You sure do like to use them hands.”
I smile up at him and shrug.
“You said it takes a personal touch.”
I like the feeling of cool gritty soil between my fingers, underneath my nails. In it lies renewal. I see his eyes light with a smile at my words. I grab my hoe as my grandfather steps over to my row and deftly catches me up to where he is once more.
“We would always do this in the field when we picked cotton,” he says, sweeping dirt around the plants with ease. “We would catch each other up so we could talk.”
Now at the same spot as him again, though I know not for long, I resume hoeing. My grandfather looks lovingly at the plants while he works. I peek up at him between strokes, admiring him from afar. His floppy gardening hat is his solution to keeping out of the sun, yet the man will not wear sunscreen. His sweat-drenched sleeveless t-shirt clings to his curved back as he works. Gardening is no light routine as my aching shoulders and back so readily attests to. He is a strong man who values beauty too much to not give it a chance to flourish. For him, to be out in his hill-covering domain in the hot sun by 6:00 every morning is not a chore, but a lifestyle. It is something to which most people cannot commit.
Carefully, I get down on my knees again, and begin to weave my fingers through the dirt. I have just finished creating the perfect environment for my tender friend when my grandfather asks, “What are you doing over there?”
He looks incredulous and slightly amused. I look at the plant and back at him, scared I have somehow botched the planting process.
“Helping the cucumber plant to grow?”
My grandfather laughs hard before catching his breath and saying, “That? Why, that’s a damn weed!”