Gardening my way back to my old self

I’m sure lots of people are eating green beans for supper these days. They are in season, and most farmers markets and many local food stores carry the locally grown versions of the popular legume.

I recently ate them for supper myself. With a bow to a good memory, I cooked them with potato and fixed them with milk, real butter, salt and pepper, like my mother and grandmother did when I was a child.

Mine came from the little salad garden I planted this year in the raised bed near the front stairs to my house. I had cleaned out the chives, garlic, weeds and other stray plant life gone-wild, as well as the tired dirt. Then I refilled the bed with new growing mix soil and composted cow manure, and planted seeds my Mom had given me that were leftover from planting her own garden.

I have enjoyed tasty radishes, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes and beet greens — and now green beans — out of my little patch. I am watching some baby cucumbers grow, and soon I will have baby carrots and swiss chard.

Radishes, tomato, lettuce and green beans from my garden.

Radishes, tomato, lettuce and green beans from my garden.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my little garden. It’s not so big that it requires a lot of maintenance. Nor is it big enough that I will have to spend the time canning and pickling that a larger garden requires. But it’s just the right size for me to savor summer fresh vegetables and have the satisfaction of having grown them myself.

I see my little garden as a huge victory, regardless of its small size. It is one of the pieces of the “old me” — the one before my husband Jim died from pancreatic cancer in December 2010 — that I decided to keep.

It is a small piece of success from an overwhelming list of waiting chores. It is something that is distinctively familiar to my soul.

So many things that were once familiar became strangers to me after Jim’s death. I saw them and knew they had been part of my life, but I no longer knew them. Gardening, mowing the lawn, going to camp were all among those things.

Now those things at least are common in my life again, and I can mostly deal with them myself.

Occasionally I need help with yard chores, but I have excellent support from my family and friends.

I need help with the awning on my camper, which stays in a campground all summer, but I’m no longer afraid to ask for it. It’s not a “widow” condition to need help pulling out the awning or rolling it back up again. The awning is awkward and heavy. The men in the campground help each other with that task for their own campers.

And my little garden has not withered and died when I have been away from home a few days at a time because a good friend has helped me with watering. I am available to help her out too.

I have accepted that people need community, and that some tasks are part of community function and I no longer worry that asking for help will label me as “that widow” who can’t do anything for herself.

Give and take. Comfortable symbiosis. Sort of like it is in marriage, only very different.

It is the natural order of my new reality, and the process is becoming more comfortable.

I recently was sitting in a chair on the deck in front of my camper reading a book and enjoying a cold drink, feeling a steady wind cool my warm body and appreciating the rhythmic sound of the waves in the lake not far from where I sat.

I suddenly realized I was content. I sorely miss what Jim and I had there — and don’t think for one minute there are never tears — but the reason I continue to go to camp has changed. It’s no longer tradition or just a visit to memory lane; it’s where I rejuvenate and restore.

I made a few changes, including getting a different camper after Jim died, but they have let me redefine the space and my experience there.

I have managed to blend my old memories and my new experiences into something that is uniquely mine. I look forward to going there and feel sad when it’s time to leave.

It’s become MY place.

And that fact has given me confidence to expand into other areas without fearing failure or pain — like my little garden.

Even though this camping season is not yet done, I am already thinking about next year. And I am thinking it could be time to reintroduce the boat to my camping experience. I really do miss fishing.


Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.