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Summer Nights Breath Life Into A Garden Of Remembrances
(Grandma's Garden Yield's Magical Moments)
by Cookie Curci
Long before I began nurturing my own backyard herb garden, I spent my summers watching my Nonna Isolina passionately cultivate her productive garden of carrots, zucchini, string beans, peppers, tomatoes, Swiss chard, rosemary, garlic, escarole, onions, parsley and arugula in the Santa Clara Valley of California.
As a child, I sat for hours high in Nonna's backyard walnut tree observing her at work in her beloved garden; other times, I filled my shirttails with fruit picked from her orchard trees. I ate apricots, peaches, wine sap apples and purple boysenberries until my stomach ached.
On these occasions, I was unhappily introduced to Nonna's herb garden and the medicinal greens growing there, like chamomile, parsley, rosemary, lemon grass, spearmint, peppermint, witch hazel and a bitterly pungent plant called arugula. Nonna employed these herbs regularly to treat my childhood bellyaches.
Nonna loved life as she loved her garden and believed there was something new to be learned about each day. I recall how the two of us would walk hand and hand among her prolific vegetable garden, observing her young bean sprouts bursting through the crusty earth; how she would point out the young seedlings that were destined to grow and the ones that would die. Speaking to me in her native Italian language, she would say: "That which does not grow, dies". She applied this philosophy to her everyday life as well. Change and growth uplifts us and generates life. Just like Nonna's young seedlings, the grand essentials to life are nourishment, growth and love.
At break of dawn, Nonna could be found in her garden sipping on a cup of strong coffee while she surveyed the work that awaited her. She read the cloud formations each morning in order to predict impending shifts in the weather and precipitation low flying, pillow like cumulus clouds were her favorite, for they foretold of sunny, fair weather ahead. At night, long after the sun had set, she'd return to the garden to defend it from snails and other crusty crawlers, plucking them off one by one and tossing them into a bucket.
For Nonna, working in her garden was an everyday ritual. She'd done it so often, and for so long, as to almost become invisible at it. Nonna had always loved her garden, bringing to it every little scrap of knowledge and experience she gathered in the fields and orchards of her Old Country.
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