“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: One is roots, the other is wings.”
– Hodding Carter
A few weeks ago, my father said something interesting to me. He was peeking out at my container garden and said “It’s like Italy out there- like what your grandparents used to do.”
My father is not one for sharing memories. In fact, I can only think of a handful of family stories he’s shared with me, and those were only told after I asked him relentlessly about his childhood. His parents came from Italy, as did my mother’s grandparents, and they all settled in Astoria, New York. My parents grew up down the street from one another, married, saved their money, and in the early 1970’s, they finally had enough saved to buy a house on Long Island, which is where I grew up.
There was no garden at our house. Instead we had a landscaped front and back yard that required little care- instead of grass, we had pebbles and rocks. Instead of plants and flowers, we had the kind of bushes that stayed green year round and hurt if you accidentally rode your bike into them (which I did on more than one occasion.)
Nature was not my friend, it was just something that was there, and something that remained fairly unchanging through the seasons. As far as growing anything edible around our house- forget it. After growing up in poverty, my parents were very proud of the fact they could afford to buy their food from the store or the local farm stand.
Anyway, my father’s comment about Italy and my grandparents interested me. I knew he wouldn’t tell me much, but I asked him to explain what he meant.
Apparently, many of my ancestors and relatives had big container gardens on their front “stoops” (the New York word for “porch”), and back in Italy, kept beautiful container gardens on their porches and in the alleys by their homes.
This was news to me. As far as I knew, I was the only person in my direct family who had ever shown an interest in gardening. I heard rumors that my grandfather may have grown tomatoes, but other than that- nothing.
I think when I started gardening, my parents didn’t realize I was serious about it. Now they come over and walk among my containers with their hands on their hips for a few seconds (to be fair, it’s not a huge garden) and tell me that everything looks healthy and well-watered, which is all very high praise from people who have no interest in gardening or plants. I send tomatoes over to my mom- she says she enjoys them but I’m her daughter, so what else would she tell me? They sometimes ask me how “the garden” is, but that’s about it.
Hearing that I had family who gardened “way back when” sparked something inside me. The only “Italian” things I really connect with the way my voice raises when I get emotional and my ability to cook a mean Baked Ziti. But this whole gardening thing… hearing that this might be something “rooted” in me, passed down from generations, made me strangely happy. Suppose *this* is my connection to my heritage- the pots of flowers and eggplant, the containers of basil and ivy? I want to know more. What did they plant? Why? Was it out of need or was it passion or both?
And for my daughter, Gracie? Right now she’s not that interested in gardening. She’ll come out every so often and pat the soil down in the pots with her pink trowel or sweep up for me. She also likes to water the plants, but I think that’s really about all the crazy settings on the hose- she’s a little obsessed with the mister. I bought her a few “fun” seeds like peas and a bean with a word laser-carved in it, but she never really maintained any curiosity about them after they disappeared into the soil.
However, she’s six. Her interests change daily. Sometimes I’ll find her out back, among the containers, quietly talking to herself. Maybe someday she’ll want to come back and plant a seed or help me repot something. Maybe someday she’ll find the same peace and serenity I find when I’m out there, lost in the little chores and tasks that have to be done every day.
Until then, it’s just me, and the cats, (and the two little lizards that live in the garden). But it feels a little less lonely out there when I think of the family that might have come before me, doing the same thing, many years ago.