Just-picked-and-shelled peas and new potatoes for supper! No need to worry about us eating our vegetables with a menu like that. We youngsters looked forward to summer fare that included all the fresh produce we could eat from our South Dakota farm garden.
Every spring Dad hooked the John Deere 520 onto the retired rusty farm disc that rested under the trees at the edge of the small field. A few rounds and the loosened soil was ready to produce another batch of vegetables for the family.
Mom taught us at a very young age how to hoe between the rows and pull the weeds. The carrots had to be replanted more than once when one of us confused their feathery little tops with those of some invasive scourge. We learned how and when to pick beans, then helped cut or snap them into pieces ready to be cooked in the pressure canner. Ours held just four quart jars and sported large black wing nuts that fastened the cover down tightly. Though the device made her a bit nervous, Mom was glad to have it and told us how before the days of pressure canners, her mother boiled jars of vegetables for hours to can them. We helped prepare beans, corn and carrots. Every bit of extra produce was squirreled away for winter use.
By midsummer the northwest corner of the garden gleamed with color—Mom’s flower garden! Red, white and peach-colored gladiola spires reached for the heavens in the back rows. Cannas with red tops towered next, creating a striking backdrop for the dahlias, cosmos, asters, sweet peas and zinnias. Moss roses cushioned the paths with a flower-splotched green carpet. Four-o-clocks flashed pink and yellow trumpets every afternoon, true to their name. Peonies, roses and petunias nestled in beds around the house, inviting a walk-about.
Every Saturday evening, our mother marched out the front door, scissors in hand. Twenty minutes later, she returned with an apron full of cut flowers and a smile on her face. Lovely bouquets graced our kitchen table, especially on Sundays, displayed in vases she treasured, gifts from her sisters or mother or our dad. The arrangements held the place of honor, displayed on a delicate crocheted doily she or one of her sisters had made.
All that beauty in her flower garden was meant to be shared. Like Hermes, the FTD messenger, Mom showed up with a bouquet in her hands when visiting a neighbor or members of her family.
Many seasons passed. Summer gardens grew, produced their bounty, and winter turned the plants into soil for the next year. I had my own family, my own garden, far away from home. Mom visited, and I could not wait to show her my garden, lush with rows of beans, peas, carrots and potatoes. She gazed over the expanse and I waited for her song of praise. Finally, she spoke. “Where are the flowers?”
I felt a pang of disappointment, for I thought of all people my mother would surely understand. “I need to raise as much food as I can, Mom,” I explained, picturing the jars stashed in our pantry, my contribution to feeding the family.
Moments passed in silence, and at last I glanced over to my mother. Her face was lifted up to the sky where the sun’s golden rays framed a huge puffy cloud. Crinkles deepened next to her eyes as she turned to me. Wisdom reflected in those blue eyes, lessons learned from years of life lived to its fullest and hardships overcome. Softly she said, “Flowers are food for the soul.”
Today, more than thirty-five years later, I sit at my dining room table. Before me a single rose brightens the room, nestled in an etched-glass vase that belonged to my mother. The precious, round white doily underneath enhances the centerpiece. I gently stroke the outer pink petal, a layer of silk that curves down perfectly to allow her sister petal to shine. A soft, lovely fragrance surrounds me and I close my eyes. In spite of the chaos, the worry and sadness in the world outside, my soul finds peace. And I remember my mother’s words. Yes, Mom, you were right. So very right.