Let me speak a word for my mother who died this Mother’s Day.
She was a city girl – white gloves, tailored clothes and pinned up hair. She was fiercly independent, headstrong, a librarian who instilled a love of books in her five children and nurtured each one's individuality, a volunteer for causes that touched her heart, and an indoors person. She was so independent, she left her large Irish family and ventured to spend her life in another state. During WWII she moved to Newark to work for the US Government and met my father who was working in the Kearny shipyards building battleships.
She married my father, a Pennsylvania German who grew up on a subsistence farm. My father’s family grew their own veggies, fruit, raised their own meat, made scrapple, baloney, bacon, and everything including fashnachts
My father had a garden for as long as I can remember – dozens of tomatoes, peppers, gooseberries, herbs and roses. Every year he grew his own transplants and cooked and pickled the harvest.
I was the opposite of my city mother (I had thought). I grew up outdoors and played King of the Mountain with boys on piles of dirt in construction lots and ran up and down the moonscape of the forbidden local landfill. I sat on spreading limbs of oaks and weeping willow where a few girls and I held our Dare Devil Club meetings (which I heavily promoted - maybe that’s why mother used to tell me my middle name was “Trouble”). We played in wooded lots and made our own variety of deer-like trails through brambles and bushes. And we enjoyed the sweetest blackberries, raspberries and wild strawberries ever and, in wonder, ran home with asparagus from the weedy garden of an old, scary, deserted house.
At 23, I drove with my young son to the coast of northern California for a while and lived in a cabin in the woods. Someone gave me cuttings of houseplants (what a concept!), which I put in water in cups on a high, sunless shelf that ran around the one-room cabin. They died and when I asked what went wrong I was told that the cups had needed to be refilled with water and the plants given light.
Three years later on another Mother’s Day in central Jersey, my mother gave me a purple Tradescantia zebrina
hanging basket. I took it outside to hang it in the sun and its brilliance and depth of color transfixed me. How could a color like this be on a leaf? What was with all those perfect little hairs on the leaves? The color was so luscious and liquid it looked as if it could quench my thirst or color my cheeks if I rubbed it on my face.
I was forever lost, then, because of the plant my city mother gave me. Needless to say, she and the Zebrina changed my life forever. Later, I came to learn that my mother and I were not dissimilar at all – only in our individual pursuits. We are part of each other.
Her name is Gertrude Mohn and she wrote the dedication to DIG IT! Now it is enriched.
-Mary Jasch, May 2009