Connecting to My Tennessee Roots

Seven years ago, my mom and I gave birth to a few dozen potatoes. Someone had given some plants they couldn’t use, and lo and behold, a few months later potatoes were born.

I just didn’t know it until my mom happened to stop by. She stood over my meager garden (12 x 12) that boasted scallions, peppermint, spearmint, sage, tomatoes, a couple of raspberry bushes, and some very unfruitful cucumber and zucchini plants. It was ragtag and eclectic. Like me.

Funny thing is, everyone expects me to have a mega garden, flourishing with enough food to last throughout the winter. I guess part of it is that half of my genes sprouted in Tennessee from my mom’s side. The other part of it is that I’m a tree-hugging hippy and I love plants and being outdoors.

Unfortunately, gardens and I have a love/pity kind of relationship. I love the thought of having a garden, and the plants pity my lack of knowledge and know-how.

Anyway! There I was, seven years ago, standing with my mom by my garden. She wore this forlorn kind of amused look as I picked peppermint leaves and shoved them under her nose. My tomatoes had yellow spots and were inedible. And I already told you about my cukes and zukes. Don’t get me started on the slugs.

So, she pointed to this big leafy collection of plants and asked, “So when are you going to pick your potatoes?”

Did I mention I never grew potatoes before? I’d forgotten what I’d planted. I responded, “When they’re ready.”

She said, “They’re ready,” then ordered me to go get a basket or bucket.

Then she had me bent over, yanking those potatoes up by the leafy stemmed bunches while she dug with a hand spade. Out came . . . POTATOES! I shrieked with excitement and let out a whoop I’m sure they heard all the way down in the village.

I plopped that bunch into the basket by her feet, and looked up to find her beaming with pride. I pulled out the next bunch, and the next, leaving gaping holes in the earth. I shrieked again, and kept at it ‘til the basket was full and that patch of garden was empty.

When it was all over she watched as I fondled the potatoes in the basket she now cradled, oohing and ahhing over each little cherub, then asked, “How does it feel?”

Without hesitation, I replied, “Like I just gave birth. And you were there helping me push.” She put the basket down and we hugged and for some reason I started crying. It was such a huge accomplishment, and my mom was there with me to experience it.

We divided up our harvest, she taking the tinier spuds, leaving me the larger ones. Later that night she phoned to tell me those were the best potatoes she’d ever eaten.

Mom died the following year, in August, when the sun was bright but signs of summer’s end were beginning to show. She loved summer. But as she grew older, she confessed as we sat rocking on her back porch, she did not dislike autumn or winter any more. She said she felt just like the maple tree she had planted in her back yard, changing with the seasons. She held my hand and told me she felt like she was in Autumn heading into Winter.

And then she passed away a few weeks later.

I couldn’t bring myself to plant a garden since then. Every time I thought about it, I thought about Mom. And the potatoes. And I just didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to garden without crying for missing her so badly.

,Then, through the miracle of technology, my long-lost cousin Timmy came back into my life, thanks to his wife, Tammy, and Facebook. One day, through text, he was catching me up on the life he shares with his wife and showed me pictures of their garden. He seemed surprised, disappointed, and probably down right shocked to hear I did not have a garden. That’s almost sacrilege for anyone with Tennessee blood in them.

His response was simply, “You gotta keep all things going no matter what happens. Put a couple ‘mater plants out just to remind you of the good.”

So, I did.

The next day my amazing husband put together my small raised-bed garden. We went to Lowe’s and bought us some “maters” and a few other goodies.

I had forgotten how healing it feels to sink my hands into Mother Earth. I healed with every plant I placed in the dirt, as I carried on a tradition my Mom had carried on, that her parents had carried on, and their parents had carried on.

For them it was a way of life. For me, it’s a memorial and tribute to my Mom, my Grandma and Papa, and my cousin Tim. And, especially to my Tennessee Roots.

My garden may be tiny, but it’s jam-packed with love. No potatoes, but lots and lots of love.

Tennessee Roots Planted in New York Soil
Tim’s Real Tennessee Garden

2 thoughts on “Connecting to My Tennessee Roots”

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