Friday, February 12, 2010

Xantolo in the garden

My great gramma's garden with me.

When I started my first garden, I asked my Dad what to do. "What should I plant? What grows here?" "Just try everything you want he said, and then you'll know." I did what he said, and grew everything I wanted. A lot didn't overwinter or produce fruit or flowers where I lived, but it felt so fulfilling to get it in the ground; to see the big bushy green everywhere that summer. I wore sunscreen that first time I planted, the not-nice-scented kind, the kind that smelled like 20 years ago sunblock, and now whenever I smell it, I'm on my hands and knees again, digging little holes, and putting in seeds next to the fence in that first yard.

I asked my Dad once why he got into gardening, and as I remember it (I could be manufacturing this memory mind you) he said his Grandpa Earley always had a big garden. His own parents, when I knew them at least, employed a gardener for their yard, and never had any kind of vegetable garden or fruit trees, but he'd connected with his grandparents. I knew my Great Grandma Earley, and by herself she'd still maintained a decent garden in her 70's and maybe early 80's. She had a banana tree growing in her San Diego yard!

One of my Dad's gardens

So my Dad always had a garden. We moved a few times as I was growing up, and he'd take whatever he had and made a garden: a huge, incredible garden with every fruit tree you could think of in some places. Have you ever eaten a loquat? a persimmon? a pomegranite? a fig? they all grew in our yard.

I read Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal Vegetable Miracle" this week, and one section really spoke to me. OK, a lot of it spoke to me, but this one part about the "dia de los muertos" brought a little aha! moment for me:
"People's sadness was not for the departed, but for themselves, and could be addressed through ritual visiting called Xantolo, an ordinary communion between the dead and the living. Mexican tradition still holds that Xantolo is always present in certain places and activities, including wild marigold fields, the cultivation of corn, the preparation of tamales, and pan de muerto. Interestingly, farmers markets are said to be loaded with Xantolo."

My front side garden

The author goes on about the food tradition and how it connects the generations, but I feel it in the garden. I come from a long line of gardeners, and gardening brings us together now --with my Dad and me it's one of our strongest connections, and it's nice to think of my great grandparents, and their parents and THEIR parents all going through the same motions through the centuries -getting that satisfaction from creating a personal oasis, and growing their own food. Why then wouldn't my garden be a good place for xantolo? I've got the field of wild marigolds. In the last two years the marigolds have started to take over. I've let them --loving their bright bright sunny orange-yellow, and their strength and thrift. They reseed themself with a vengeance, creating new, healthy plants everywhere there's a bit of water. Almost half of our 1/3 acre is marigolds now I'd estimate (outside of the vegetable planters). Why wouldn't the peace I feel in my garden in late summer have a little to do with a few ghosts visiting and hanging out with me? This is the kind of place I'D want to go if I were a ghost, and my grands and great-grands had to be something like me and my Dad. I'd like to think so anyway.


Deja said...

Well, that made ME weep, so we traded. This is beautiful writing, Ammie. And that first picture in great grandma's garden is incredible: it LOOKS like xantalo, with that shadow there. So lovely. I want a garden, too.

belann said...

Most wonderful. Maybe you need to write your own book.

Kelli said...

my grandparents gardened as well. They grew a lot more than they could eat themselves so when I was visiting with them (which was OFTEN) I always remember every afternoon we would fill the back of the pickup truck with vegetables and go visit friends until the bounty ran out. My parents gardened as well, but not so much--I guess because they had a lot to do with raising a family and such.
I love the marigolds, thanks for sharing. As long as you don't mind a few tomatillos along the way.
signed up for the CSA. Can't wait. I'm all anxious to get out in the soil again myself.

Lynn said...

I remember Grandpa Bottini being the gardener. He was the one that planted most of the trees at the Palm St house. When we were little, there were orange trees all down the driveway. We used to eat from Grandpa's garden a lot. He grew lots and lots of hot peppers. When he worked at the bakery (as the story goes) he fell off of a bread truck and landed on his head. That fall killed his sense of smell which affected his taste as well. He would make this hot hot hot salsa to put on his food. The hot peppers he could taste. So all of the good meals that Grandma made, he would pour on all of that hot sauce so that he could taste it. Your Dad took over his garden when you moved into that house. Remember all of those berries? You crazy kids would go down and eat them right off of his vines.

Lee said...

It was a great way to grow up. When I left the "fresh market" today I started crying to Keaton because I don't have any Grandma's or Grandpa's left (just Aunt Lynn who we adopted as a "great" Grandma Earley). Today is my day to think about them I guess. Lee and I are going to expand our garden this year. Just something special about growing what you eat.

Terry Earley said...

Finally saw this. Sorry it is so late. Gardening is where it's at.

Grandma Earley gardened and Grandpa Earley, in one house when I was a kid, terraced a very large lot which sloped down a canyon in order to garden and raise rabbits.

You already knew about Grandpa Bottini and where, in his garden, he developed hotter and hotter peppers. They were so hot that Grandma made him cook in his own frying pan. He had no sense of smell, so hot peppers were the only thing he could "taste".