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First Frost Threat and Preserving


“Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied. With us it is different… We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it.”
New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton

A low of 37 degrees was predicted for Monday night. It was the first threat of frost, and I faced the challenge of saving what was not yet fully ripened in my garden. Every fall, it’s the same. I try to squeeze out as much produce as possible from a season of labor, with a limited amount of garden-friendly time.

As I thought about what tarps and sheets I had available to protect my plants, to keep them alive and allow them to continue growing, I wished that it was this easy to protect everyone I love this way. To keep the cold-freeze, the bitter comment, the angry look away. To wall away those things that stop a person in their tracks and make them ashamed of who they are and afraid to dream, afraid to put themselves out there.

Last Saturday was spent blanching and freezing what I believe is the last of my green beans. I cut up zucchini and tomatoes from my garden, plus mushrooms, potatoes, and onions to wrap in olive-oil-coated-foil to heat on the grill. I prepared cous cous to go with the vegetables. And chopped up the remaining vegetable odds and ends for chicken treats. Then I baked an acorn squash, which had fallen off the vine in a storm, and seasoned it with a bit of salt, pepper, and brown sugar to have for desert.

While I worked on these kitchen tasks, Steve carried on his own mission of turning sixteen garden tomatoes and fresh basil into jars of canned spaghetti sauce. On Sunday, Steve continued with canning and made a couple jars of pickles and a brandy, dried-fruit ice cream topping, while I goofed off trail riding with my friends.

As Steve and I worked in the kitchen, memories of my childhands slowly and methodically cutting carrots and celery for my mother came back to me — chop (move knife) chop (move knife) chop (move knife). I pursed my lips and knitted my eyebrows with concentration, not wanting the slices to be too thick or too thin.  I also remember holding a large wooden spoon tightly in one, sometimes two, hands as I stirred ingredients together. Unfortunately, the childhood joy of helping and creating was usually interrupted by a heavy sigh that lifted my hair off my shoulders and sent a chill through an oven-warmed room.

“Give me that! We’ll never get done at this rate.” And the spoon was pulled out of my hand in mid-stir. Or “That’s not the way you do it! Let me finish cutting before you hurt yourself.”  This was followed by a rapid fire chop-chop-chop-chop-chop, which I watched with the shame of failure.

I could never do it right or fast enough. I became used to having things grabbed out of my hands because I hadn’t made the right choice, not just in cooking, but in making a bed, washing the floor, even raking leaves. I soon stopped offering to help, to my mother’s relief. I knew myself as clumsy, inept, and useless. I developed a cooking phobia, afraid to cook for anyone but myself and became known as the girl that couldn’t cook.

When Steve and I were camping, there were times where I wanted to ask, “Is this where I should put these?” before I set the chairs around the campfire or placed our things in the tent. I’m often tempted to stand back and do nothing. To wait for direction or for someone to do whatever it is I’m not sure of, so I can see how people who know, people who do, competent people, carry these simple tasks out. Then I will know next time the need arises. But what if the next time the person wants it done differently? I’ve noticed, people have their own ways and any other way is simply not right.

Most of the time now, I push past those voices, the looks, and the gestures I catch out of the corner of my eye-memory. Those shadows are so close, the humiliation fresh as cow pies, that it hasn’t been easy to pull out the cutting board again and risk making a mistake.

But I’m around kinder people now. I haven’t been corrected for a very long time and even when I am, it’s a suggestion, not a right or wrong deal. And there is now a “Maery way” of doing things and a “Maery way” of being. It’s a touch and feel and taste way of going through life that suits me just fine.

I don’t bring up these memories because I’m stuck blaming my hangups on the past. It’s generally a surprise to me when I make these connections. It’s an “ooohhh” moment when I better understand where a confusing fear comes from. It helps to have that knowledge so I can tell myself that I’m a big girl now. I know how to protect my garden from the frost and my spirit from the nasties.

And I know how to ride out whatever else is weighing on my mind.

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11 Comments

  1. I am the same way, and it is definitely traced back to my childhood. My boyfriend laughs it off whenever I have one of those moments, and when he said “Do what you want! I am happy with what you choose.” My brain completely froze. Is this a trick? Is he going to change his mind? Anxiety over nothing!
    I call it the EPS [Eager Puppy Syndrome]. “Yes! Yes! Let me cater to every whim and need! What should I do now?!”
    Arf arf.

    I’m glad you are overcoming such hardwired reactions and feelings. Its a slow process, isn’t it? But I think you are doing great. 🙂

  2. This post made me so angry!! That your own mother was so perfectly inept at performing her job as a mother that she had no patience, love and nurturing with you…so wrong! In her defense, I can only surmise that someone was just as cold and impatient with her when she was a child. So sad…we’re all slow and bumbling at doing things when we’re young. But if we’re never allowed to learn and become confident…nobody would ever become good at anything. Oh Maery, I’m so happy that you’re learning that your way is the perfect way, for you! Don’t you just wish you could go back in time and give that beautiful, young Maery a loving hug and a reassuring smile? I certainly do!

  3. ABScharstein – It’s nice to have people like your boyfriend in your life. It makes it safe to try new things.

    C-ingspots – Sorry. I didn’t intend to make anyone angry at my mom. I don’t know much about her childhood but I’m thinking it had to have been pretty devoid of love. She actually changed quite a bit in her old age. Maybe it took that long to forget the messages she’d been carrying. Things still hurt but I have to believe she did the best she knew how.

    Nezzy – It looks like the next possible dip into the 30s is on Saturday. I just want all my tomatoes to finish ripening. I hope that’s not too much to ask.

  4. So happy you ARE around kinder people now, including you– accepting and approving of the “Meary way”, which i’m guessing is just great(!), and quieting those critical voices. 🙂

  5. Maery, Just struck me wrong I guess. You weren’t the one who was inept, you were the child. A very impressionable child. I’m sure your mom did the best she could…forgot to mention your canned produce is just beautiful!

  6. So glad that you have your own “Maery way”…which from the look of things is about perfect! This us why I don’t cook or grill…my dad was the one who was not such a good teacher. To this day I don’t do any of these things because A) he’s here and laughs at mr for trying, and B) the memory of all the yelling, turns all desire to mush…or is it tomato sauce. BTW…pretty darn awesome spaghetti sauce !

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