“Now joblessness isn’t just for philosophy majors.” – Kent Brockman, newscaster from The Simpsons
Each evening these days I engage in a ritual played out in many Australian households. It’s a tradition based in that age-old practice of provision, of supplying sustenance for the tribe. Of course, these days that doesn’t mean I stride out to the paddock and knock off a couple of kangaroos for fire-roasting… all I do is water our vegetable patch! I’ll admit, it lacks a certain masculinity that would be present in returning with a freshly shot animal, but I am comfortable with it. Seats that once were gathered around my mother’s outdoor setting have now been moved around the opposite side of the house, all the better for vegetable watching. There I sit, glass of wine (or perhaps beer if the day has been hot and my hands are dirty) close at hand, birds warbling and twittering all around while a cool evening breeze steals the heat from the day.
Sometimes I am content to stand in the middle of the garden, occasionally spurred into action by the site of an errant weed, lunging forward to seize the offender that has had the audacity to lodge itself in my plot. Such moments provide ample opportunities for reflection, for example: Why is it that I find this all so satisfying? Is it the routine that led to this obsession? After all, I am currently “without employment”, “temporarily occupationally in limbo”. So in between submitting cover letters, résumés and selection criteria statements, I find myself occasionally standing in the veggie garden thinking about life, always a situation that leads to an early glass of red wine.
Watering, weeding and feeding do not always seem to be everyone’s idea of an evening well spent. My mother loves the food produced in a veggie-patch and has always maintained her own garden, but views the necessary work in the same way as say… unclogging a blocked toilet. Which is to say, dirty, sweaty and occasionally covered in shit. It does after all, involve a considerable amount of manure, something I consistently manage to get all over my clothes and precipitates many harrumphs from the wife.
So having outlined the crap ridden nature of the whole enterprise I return to my original question, am I replacing the lack of an occupation with a veggie-patch? Or is it a genuine love of home-grown veggies? I have, after all, always grown veggies, even when involved in gainful employment. Some of my earliest memories in the garden were with my father, who pulled a carrot from a pile of cow manure, gave it the most cursory rinse under a rusty tap before handing it to his eight-year-old saying, “this is the best carrot you will ever eat”. He was right! Veggies do taste better right out of the ground. Beans snap in your mouth, peas pop right out of their pods and tomatoes taste sweeter when they are still warm and right off the plant. Last year we introduced our daughter to this tradition, or rather she introduced herself, when she pulled sun-gold tomatoes off the vine (and with dirt encrusted fingers) shoved them into her gaping maw. I swear I saw her little eyes roll back as she looked up and said, “Yummy daddy”. It was one of the happiest moments of my life! Unfortunately this food introduction technique has led to a rather elitist attitude from our two-year-old as she now refuses to eat tomatoes any other way.
My dad loved his veggie patch. Every Saturday after a round of golf he was to be found out in the yard, transistor blaring a footy or cricket game, or a horse race. Most Sunday mornings he would casually beg off church with a “got to get to work out in the garden honey, those weeds aren’t going to pull themselves”, leaving my mother to drag three unwilling kids in scratchy clothes off to Sunday school. Upon our return he would be frozen outside, staring into space while listening to the fifth ball being delivered in the twentieth over of the fourth day of the third test; or something like that. In hindsight it was a rather devious way of avoiding his weekly churchgoing duties… and I happen to commend him for it. Although I’m not sure that my mother shares that commendation, after all she did endure 2 hours in a sweaty building with three irritable kids while some old man droned on about… whatever. Our only reward was the mildly satisfying “after rapture” sandwiches in the reception hall.
So, one might be forgiven for asking, what is growing in your veggie patch, Marcus? After so much bluster and waxing philosophical a little evidential proof is perhaps in order. Thus far we have planted the following:
Eggplant – for eventual Mousaka
Grape Tomatoes – For Lily
Gross Lisse Tomatoes – Homemade sauce.
Hot Peppers – Chilli chutney
Jalapeño Peppers – For sneaking into Ashley’s lunch!
Green Capsicum – Salads
Red Capsicum – More salads
Cucumber – I forget why Ash made me plant these
Pumpkin – Queensland Blue, if you please, is the pumpkins of champions.
Lettuce – at least five different varieties for salads
Potatoes – The critical ingredient in Marcus’s special Irish stew
Onion – For onion chutney and paired with tomatoes, feta and that damn cucumber make a magical Greek salad.
In addition, we have planted lot of herbs, and I delight each evening in taking the scissors and saying, “Now what would be nice on our fish tonight?” I love this adventure with food. It is just what we experienced in much of our journey home, eating what’s good, when it’s good. We have chives, parsley, marjoram, thyme, oregano, mint, rosemary, basil and cilantro.
As I dug over a section of the garden a couple of evenings ago I was struck by the thought that the ground has thirty years of my parent’s sweat in it, I could literally sense their labour in each shovel full. Free of roots and rocks it is dark and moist (the only time it is okay to use this word outside of describing cake – for more information please see my post on naughty words). The clean, dark nutrient rich soil was so nice it actually made me hungry. I turned over each shovelful and felt closeness to my father that I haven’t felt in years. Why my father and not my mother you ask? Well, perhaps because she was right there with me and he has been gone for 17 years. So perhaps this patch is one of the mediums by which I am exhibiting this return to my family. That, or I am just hungry for some shit covered carrots!
“Unemployment is capitalism’s way of getting you to plant a garden.” – Orson Scott Card.
Thanks for the update Marcus
Just having a little teary here Marcus thinking about your dad and his veggie patch. Loved your words about what the soil contained….. I have NEVER tasted tomatoes like Max’s…but maybe you will grow them. It sounds like you are on the way….
Love to you all,
Awww, thanks Ruthy,
Loving the process and looking forward to the bounty.
great post, I wish I could remember those kinds of things xo
You are just too nice.
What a great piece you’ve written — both seriously touching and absolutely funny. Marcus, you have this Carpe Diem way about you that enables you to make the most of your time where ever you happen to be. Instead of sweating your job search you find ways to honor your father & his traditions, feed your family, and give perspective to your place in the world.
My tomatoes, spinach, beans, squash, and blueberries always taste more satisfying when I think about how they connect me with my great-grandfather. Thanks for sharing your insightful reflection with us.
Thanks for your lovely and insightful comments, if I am striking a chord with such a man as you, then I must be doing something right. Still no news on the job front but Ashley has found a full time position so I am a stay-at-home dad at the moment, which suits me fine, all the more time for watching the Veggies… along with mopping, washing clothes, cooking and dusting.
Talk soon I hope.
Speaking in religious terms, I find myself coveting thy neighbor’s garden, as I look out across the baren wasteland that are our gardens in the Northeast US at this point in the year.
So glad to hear from you. Yeah, it’s a fest out here, I picked a bunch of lettuce and some zucchini today and we have made ten jars of pesto with our basil. We are going to be sun-drying some tomatoes this summer also. Sorry about all the crap ice and snow that you get each year, we are definitely not missing that. That’s one of the huge advantages of Aussie living… a year around veggie patch.