So on Tuesday, my husband and I lassoed Squints and V into helping us with our yearly service at our community garden. For the second year in a row, Filibuster escaped the event, as she had to go to work.
We pulled in and parked. In the distance, we heard the tractor in one of the fields. D, one-half of the farm partnership, met us at the barn, wearing sandals and a floppy hat. She was deeply tanned and, I could tell, deeply happy with her circumstance, despite the long hours and the backbreaking work her job required.
We heard a car on the gravel drive. D nodded. “There’s the rest of the work party.” A man walked up eagerly, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder. “They’re coming.” His wife and daughters approached at a more leisurely pace, as if not so sure about the whole thing. The daughters had long, thin, tanned legs and were carefully made up for the occasion.
After introductions were made all around, D got a bucket of tools. “We’re going to weed the alliums,” she said over her shoulder, as she led us to one of the front fields.
“What are alliums?” V asked.
“The onion family,” D said. “The weeds there have gotten out of control.”
And they had. Knee high weeds grew between the rows.
“This is a good cultural experience for my girls,” the man said, nodding and looking all around. I’m pretty sure his daughters rolled their eyes.
These work parties are funny: Usually everyone kind of starts working together en masse, but within five minutes, the workers disperse—some to the far end of a row, some to the middle, others remaining at the front. V and my husband worked with D, a gentle, kind soul who can as easily discuss Alfred Hitchcock movies as describe the bark of the fox that prowled the farm of late. Squints weeded across from me so he could tell me about a book he’d just finished. The temperature was in the seventies. An occasional wind blew. Birds chattered and crickets chirped.
“Squints, quit swinging that tool,” my husband said. “You’re going to hit your sister.” I glanced up. Squints was attacking the weeds like he’d held a scythe rather than a small hand tool. He hacked away at the weeds, to little effect.
“Just put that thing away,” I said. “You don’t need it.”
He frowned and walked slowly to the end of the row, noisily dropping the tool in the bucket. He took a long drink of water before returning to his weeding.
After a few minutes, I looked up to check his progress. “Squints, you’re kneeling on the leeks. Stand up.”
He looked at me; frowned.
“Look at those leeks!” I pointed at the poor flattened shoots, lying dismally upon the dirt.
The next time I looked up, Squints had abandoned weeding altogether in favor of testing out the musicality of the hollow onion greens.
“Squints,” I hissed. Pick the weeds!”
He frowned and sighed dramatically. “I don’t like to work.”
“You definitely don’t like physical labor.”
He grew silent; beheaded a weed. “I like some physical labor.” Another pause. Another beheading. “I like to cook. There’s a lot of stirring that goes into that.”
There’s something so profoundly rewarding about doing hard physical work; using your body for something other than sitting around all day at a desk. The results of your work are tangible—a pile of weeds, a bucket of apples, a fence surrounding the pasture. You go to bed exhausted and sleep deeply knowing that you produced something of value. When did physical labor become demeaning?
“Woah! Mom! You gotta’ see this lightning bug!” Squints pointed to a giant firefly on the dirt. “Hang on. I’ve got to relocate him.” He picked up the bug and set him on the green part of a leek. “Mom, take a look at this albino grasshopper! He’s entirely white. He just needs the red eyes. That would be so cool.”
“Neat,” I said. “You missed a weed.” I pointed and resumed weeding.
“I just pulled out a leek.” He held it up high.
“Put your hand down,” I whispered, glancing at D. Had she seen?
“What do I do with it?”
“Hide it under the weeds.”
I’m always paranoid at these work parties, wanting to prove to D—and myself—that my family can work hard; that we’re not a bunch of spoiled suburban pansies. I want to do a good job. I want to follow the rules set out for me. And that sometimes gets me into trouble: An especially large weed grew close to a leek, so close, it was possible their roots had become entangled. If I picked the weed, I risked the leek. What to do?
I followed the rules.
I picked the weed.
I uprooted a leek.
I hid it beneath some weeds.
I glanced at Squints. He was flicking little weed bits across the row: mini weed missiles designed to destroy his boredom.
The soft air darkened slowly around us, settling upon us like a fine, misty dew. A spectacular sunset splashed across the sky—orange and purple and yellow and red.
With about twenty minutes to go, the mother and her daughters decided to call it a night. They walked to the end of the row and stood in a huddle, talking. Eventually, one, perhaps shamed by the rest of the group’s dogged persistence, bent and pretended to weed the row I’d already finished.
When it reached 8:00, our leader dismissed us. We gathered up tools and water bottles and headed for the car, dirty and tired.
“Mom,” V whispered. “Those three didn’t do anything. They talked all night.” She wiped the sweat from her brow and left a smudge of dirt behind. “They don’t know how to work.”
I glanced at Squints. I remembered V at his age. I remembered myself at his age. I rumpled his hair. “Thanks for your help, guys.”
“How about going out to dinner?” my husband asked.
Every year, Squints has helped out a little bit more at the farm, from moving bales of hay, to harvesting garlic. Every year, he learns a bit more about the meaning and the value and the beauty of hard work. I can’t destroy that with my militant insistence upon adherence to the rules—my rules.
Because Squints already knows that hard physical work should not be a cultural experience like a trip to an art museum or the orchestra. And he’s having a bit of fun along the way.
That can’t be all that bad.
Labels: Buying Locally, Community, Country life, CSA, Daughters, Gardening, Girls, Growing up, Nature, Raising Children, Rules, Sons