There was a rumor in my family when we were growing up that the soil in the south was red. A couple of my siblings had traveled from our home on the coast of Massachusetts to Florida to visit our grandparents, and they insisted it was true. Of course, we didn’t use the word soil then. We called it dirt, and red dirt was about as inconceivable to me as some of the other rumors I was beginning to hear, like the one about women bleeding and one about where babies came from.
When I was twenty, I restored the family garden. It was my father’s garden, and I remember him forcing us kids to work in it. We loved the corn suppers but not the watering and weeding. The older we got, the less of a hold my father had on us and the more overgrown the garden got.
When I reclaimed the garden I was recovering from a major clinical depression. I wasn’t doing things that other twenty year olds did. The decision to garden was a turning point. I remember paying my little brother five cents for every clod of dirt he could shovel up. Once they were free, he shook the dirt out and then flung them, pretending they were bombs. I mostly dug with my hands. I remember the dark brown earth and the smell of the nearby ocean. I remember planting, but I don’t recall harvesting or eating anything I grew then.
I was thirty-five with two young sons when I arrived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It was the first time I saw mountains, other than the ones I had seen in my dreams. As a gardener, I was disappointed with the rocky red clay of Virginia. I had come to lead a country life, and so growing food would be important.
I figured there’s more than one way for people to be rich. We could have a lot of money or we could have few needs. We could get jobs that caused us to leave our home and families to make money to buy the things we need, or we could stay home and do our own work and provide the things we need directly.
No matter how much manure my husband and I shovel from the back of his pick-up onto our garden each spring, we can’t recreate the dark rich soil of the Massachusetts peninsula I grew up on. But we manage to grow a lot of food. Every time I dig up a potato I'm in awe. I remember the scene from “Gone with the Wind” where Scarlet O’Hara pulls a rotten potato from the earth, holds it up to the sky, and announces she will “never go hungry again.”
Scarlet O’Hara was of Irish descent, and so am I. Growing my own potatoes satisfies deeply rooted inherited feelings in me, those of lack and scarcity. A good crop of potatoes makes me feel more secure than having money does.
I have to dig deeper to harvest the roots of Echinacea and Valerian that grow in my garden. It’s a labor intensive task that makes my muscles ache. When the roots finally come loose, they’re caked with dirt. I spray them with the hose before I soak them in vodka to make medicinal tinctures. Echinacea strengthens my resistance. Valerian is a sedative, good for insomnia and anxiety.
Maybe it was a good thing that there were no anti-depressants when I was a young woman. From the ground up I’ve been healing myself. I’ve learned through growing food and by doing self-analysis therapy that treasure doesn’t tend to lie around for us to stumble over. We usually have to dig deep and trust the darkness to discover what enriches us.
Post note: "Deepest, darkest" was this week's Sunday Scribblings writing prompt. More deep and dark scribblings can be found HERE.