I sit at the top of the stairs with a plateful of Italian plums after working in the garden. The harvest so far includes four squashes of variable sizes, one gigantic zucchini, a bucket of red and orange tomatoes, and a bowl of shelled beans, red and white. The red ones are plumper, according to lil’ boy, whom I half-buried in a dry pile of bean bushes for the purpose of shelling.
I pulled out bunches of overgrown red and golden dry grasses, disturbing the marigolds and causing a storm of fragrance to clutch to my nose. Their smell is strongly pushing its way into my memory, stomping on everything, leaving but my dad’s slender figure, crouched over weeds and marigolds in our garden. He would work and tell stories, or joke about this or that, or answer many of my many questions about the garden.
He’d find bugs and show them to me, his voice steady and pleasant. My mom would come and join us, standing on the stone path, her hands carrying traces of flour and delicious smells from the kitchen. Dinner was both a promise and a gift, wrapped in togetherness.
Fall, the smell of dirt and marigolds, my mom’s voice calling us to dinner, and the occasional buzzing of a lost and forgotten summer bug, the distant wailing of a train, they all surfaced today when I chased the summer out of our small garden.
I sit at the top of the stairs realizing, plum after plum, that I ache for those times of gardening with my parents. My sister is the only other keeper of these precious times… I sit and remember, plum by plum. It’s no use to get teary but I do. I miss fall gardening with faint smells of leaf smoke from the piles everyone gathered at the end of September.
I look at the pile of garden waste I made in the back yard next to the garden patch. There are the huge squash and zucchini vines, tired and sloppy-looking, the broken tomato plants, weeds, and the dry bean and pea plants. A pile as big and colourful as my pile of memories. The sky is a beautiful, dreamy blue, gossamer-like clouds spread all over the hills, softening thoughts and dulling the sharp edges of memories that are happy and sad at once.
It’s a progression of sorts, I know that much. Summer to fall to winter and spring again. This is where you get to try again next season. People transition to memories and to more memories. That is the part that leads to the inelegance of my gaze, all teary and bending under the weight of all that cannot be again. It’s the part I process by sitting at the top of our back stairs, looking over the dry hills poking into the blue, and, eating plum after plum, dusty hands and all, I make peace, once again, with the fall, the garden where my parents visit only as memories and my stubbornness to let go.
The afternoon air hugs me warm and fragrant. I walk through short, stubby grass back to the garden. There are still the thick, dark kale bushes to care for and a whole bunch of green tomatoes to ripen. There’s the rosemary and lavender bushes; they will survive the winter. As for marigolds… I’ll plant some again next spring.