The Marriage Garden

IMG_4658I spent the morning in my pumpkin patch. I’m trying to grow a “biggest” one for a contest both as research and for fun.

It was time to prune vines and clip off some shoots in order to send more nutrients to the most hearty contestants. I was also looking for the main roots, where the vines originated, so I could infuse them with some good organic fertilizer.

It had been several weeks since I’d given the patch attention, so it took me hours to accomplish my tasks. Almost the whole time, a song my dad wrote for his parents on their 50th wedding anniversary was playing in my mind (the words as I remember them, anyway).

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[To the tune of the old hymn: In The Garden]

She works in the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. Then her boyfriend comes, with his two black thumbs, and starts to trim the hedges. And he walks to her, and he talks to her, and he tells her what she did wrong…and the joy they share, as they tarry there, will last their whole life long.

It may have been this image of a couple working (and arguing) together that led me to flesh out the garden analogy when I was asked to speak at my brother-in-law’s wedding. (I know! Huge honor. Super scary.)

I told the bride and groom to be aware that marriage is a lot like a garden. In the beginning, everything is shiny and new. You clear your plot. You put in the best soil. There isn’t a weed in sight. With great excitement, you go pick out all your favorite plants.

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Your rows are straight and full of promise. You’ve heard marriage is hard, but just look at what you’ve already accomplished! In no time you’ll be enjoying a bountiful harvest. Easy.

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The truth is, some years of your marriage will seem easier than others. You’ll plant your seeds, give the garden a few passing glances, and in the fall have a bumper crop. But other years, it seems that despite all your efforts, it’s all you can do to get a few tiny tomatoes to grow. You’ll look around and think, “Man. Am I sick of weeding!”

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Over time, you’ll learn that a steady blend of good soil, gentle rain, and constant care will yield the most consistent results. But most of the time, the work doesn’t look anything like the models you see in the Plow & Hearth catalog. There are no wide brimmed hats and soft kneeling pads. There is dirt-streaked hair, stinky sweat, and manure. Lots of manure.

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However, over the years your soil will become richer and able to handle a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. The garden will grow beyond it’s original plot. You’ll always have plenty enough produce for your own family, with leftovers to share.

Back in my garden this morning, I struggled to find those darn roots. Where had these vines originated, anyway? The temperature had spiked quickly, humidity squelching my desire to stay out there and work. But I knew, like I know with my marriage, that a little extra effort would go a long way.

And funny thing, my patch has only two pumpkins that will likely amount to anything. One is pretty big and hearty already, the other is a bit smaller and is going to need some special care. And there is a point where their two separate vines are twisted and bound so tightly together that there is no way to differentiate who’s getting nutrients from which root.

So I dug into the ground around all the roots I saw, and worked in lots of fertilizer. My hands were filthy. My back hurt. But my pumpkins are worth it. IMG_4789

And marriage is worth it, too. You pay the bills, you share your fears, you schlep the groceries and you clean the toilets. You sit and listen to the “bad day” rants, and get your turn to kvetch, too. You send out little tendrils and cling to each other, hanging on with all you’ve got.

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Then, come harvest time, you’ll get your payback. Your crops will exceed your greatest predictions. Your heart will overflow with the fruits of your labor. And, you’ll have all the energy and motivation you’ll need to do it all again next year.

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What’s your “always”?

Tomatoes

“You always have tomatoes on your windowsill.”

“I do?”

“Every time I’ve been here, there’ve been tomatoes up there.”

Huh.  I’d never thought about that.  But to one of my nieces, who usually visits during tomato season, it is a truth universally acknowledged.

I wonder what else is an “always” in her eyes?  Hopefully it is that I always light up when I see her. And that I always remember to put a little sweet treat on her pillow and have all the fixin’s for s’mores on hand. And that I always have time to listen to her stories and take her berry picking.

A friend pointed out that a lot of our “always” memories from childhood probably stem from occasions that only happened once, but were memorable. I’ve tested this with my own family:

“Didn’t we always go to Disneyworld, every time we went to Florida?” (Truth: more likely only 2-3 times).

“Grandma always took me out for lunch, and we always got Reubens.” (Truth: one time).

“We always sat down as a whole family for dinner, every night.” (Truth: not exactly).

The fact is, you never know when one special trip, one special moment, or one windowsill of tomatoes is going to become someone’s always. 

It’s a very encouraging thought that even in the face of life’s imperfections, we all have the power to make our always something beautifully memorable.

What is your always?