Matt is a gardening guru

by Matt Goldman

I hated weeding the most.

Summertime was always a catch 22 when I was growing up. June through September meant sweet, sweet freedom from the shackles of public education, but it also meant that in order to indulge in summer vacation’s plentiful offerings, I’d have to pay my dues working in that damn garden.

Still too young to have a summer job but too old to fritter away entire days at the community pool, I was required by my father to set a aside a few hours and help him rake, plant, dig, pick and, of course, pull weeds. The problem was that I hated that garden with every ounce of my 11-year-old being. The summer was supposed to be my time. After nine agonizing months of long division and grammar the last thing I wanted to do was toil over a bunch of silly vegetables while getting sweaty, dirty and bug-bitten.

The mornings would come with a knock on my bedroom door – my dad’s wake-up call.

“Time to get up Matt, we gotta get some things done out there today.”

But I was a stubborn, defiant little SOB. There were a number of occasions where I flat out refused to help him – just wouldn’t come out of the house. On the days when I did honor his request, it was only after hours of dawdling before I finally showed up. I’d then do a half-assed job of whatever tasks he’d assigned me and be on my way as quickly as possible.

This routine went on for a couple more years until I got a driver’s license and my first summer job bagging groceries, which was just as agonizing but paid me what I considered at the time to be a good chunk of change, therefore rendering it an acceptable activity. Every once in a while, though, my dad would still ask if I wanted to help him with the garden – to which I’d respond unhesitatingly: “NO!”

I never understood why that pile of dirt was so important to him. In my mind, gardening was on par with digging holes in prison yards and filling them back up again. His loyalty to and apparent enjoyment of gardening was especially strange to me since, as a school teacher, summertime was his vacation too. It seemed completely counterintuitive.

These days, I’ve softened on the old man a bit.

I’ve acquired a better understanding of what he likes about gardening so much, especially in this day and age. In an era where time has become as precious a commodity as oil, where just about everything is instantaneous, and we rarely slow down to eat – let alone take a few deep breaths – there has developed a cathartic value in an activity that requires a bit of patience. Some people do yoga, write in their journals or read books to achieve this mental equilibrium – my dad plants green beans. In my adolescence, I was too impulsive and distractible to appreciate the value in taking the time to watch something grow. As I’ve come into adulthood, I now understand why my dad is so elated when we sit down to dinner and everything on the plate was carefully and thoughtfully grown by his dedicated hands.

I still wouldn’t call myself a full-on proponent of gardening. I don’t have a garden myself. But whenever I visit my parents’ house during the summer months, my dad almost always insists that I take a walking tour of his personal Shangri la. I politely oblige, and despite myself I can’t help but be impressed by this year’s batch of broccoli plants.

But I still don’t mess with the weeds.

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