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RUTLEDGE: Where do mothers come from? A vegetable garden, if you’re lucky

Mark Rutledge

Mark Rutledge


The Daily Reflector

Saturday, May 13, 2017

There's a snapshot somewhere of my mother picking green beans in her garden with a white cat named Tinker Bell standing on her back. I wish I had that picture to use with this column.

This happens to be the season of maternal gratitude, but I'd be thankful for my mother and her garden this time of year anyway. Except for a few seasons spent away from the farm, or when relentless spring rains mostly allowed the weeds to take over, Mom has raised a garden for as long as I can remember. Even when it was not her idea.

Mom was born the day after Independence Day in Monroe County, Tennessee, where her father managed a 200-acre farm near the banks of the Tellico River. My grandmother, still in her teens, placed her newborn in a basket and would slide her along the rows while filling another basket with beans.

I like to imagine that a clingy farm cat might have even gone along for the ride.

A mountain girl literally raised in vegetable gardens, Mom married a city boy who had grown up with occasional visits to farms of relatives. Those samplings, however, planted in him a craving for country life.

During my earliest years, we lived in a parsonage in Albemarle, North Carolina, where Dad bought a little house with a barn and six acres just outside of town. That was the first place I remember us having a garden. I recall my sister and me playing in the dirt while Mom tended the crops and Dad was off visiting the sick and shut in.

That pattern played out summer after summer. Dad would plow and help plant. But it was mostly Mom who weeded, pruned and picked.

Shortly after we moved to Tennessee, Dad noticed an elderly neighbor had not planted his huge plot as usual. Dad offered to work the entire garden for half the harvest. The man accepted, and we — mostly Mom and I — became urban sharecroppers for several years.

In the late 1970s, Dad finally bought another farm just outside of town. Mom has raised a vegetable garden most years since, even when it was not her idea to do so.

The gardens of our raising planted a craving in my siblings and me for the summer tables they filled. Corn on the cob, fried okra, sweet onions, green beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and cornbread.

Mom would slice the cucumbers and tomatoes and put them on the table for us while she stirred the sweet onions and yellow squash to caramelized perfection in an iron skillet.

Dad’s harvest is long laid to rest and Momma's chickens have all come home to roost. It wasn't her idea, but Mom helped us plant last week.

Her timing was superb: The corn and beans went in and it rained that night. Tomatoes, squash and peppers went in two days later, and it rained. Mom knew it would rain. Said she could feel it in her tired and aching bones.

And isn’t that why we honor mothers? They know what to do and they go on and do it even when they’d feel better doing something else.

Farm cats, by the way, instinctively know this about mothers.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.