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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

PARENTS AND PEARLS

"Did I ever tell you about the oysters? Oysters? I didn't tell you bout the oysters? Think about all the millions of oysters lying around on the bottom of the ocean. Then one day, God comes along and he says, "I think I'm gonna make that one different," and you know what he does? He puts a little piece of sand in it. And guess what it can do that the others can't. What? It can make a beautiful pearl." …from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes

Slavery didn’t end with the Civil War: we all have parents. I’m not suggesting that all parent’s view kids as property but a few have the idea that for a kid to make it in the world today their capacity for work must be tested.


Whereas most kids began boot camp with the simple task of keeping their room clean, my training began deep in a small jungle called a garden. Within this two thousand square foot torture chamber we grew our groceries.


The boot camp was rarely fenced, save a rare electric wire during the years when rabbits were plentiful. To simply keep me at the task of pulling weeds my mother, with switch in hand, sternly warned me that there would be no mercy if the job were not complete by high noon. Our reward was to shuck corn and shell purple hull peas in the shade. I was spoiled.


At times, when morale in the camp was low, my mother would load my two sisters and I into our green car where our bare legs would burn on hot vinyl seats while we drove two miles down the road to Manley’s store. She would give each of us a quarter and let us stick our head in the cooler to look for the coldest RC soda we could find. We’d grab a Chick-A-Stick or a Zero Bar and zip back home to mass production.


Even while trying to catch an episode of Love Boat on a Saturday night, a bowl of green beans to be snapped was placed in my lap to help me relax. I really liked television but my fingers were always too sore to applaud any genius in script writing. I was basically held hostage by vegetables.


I favored watermelon. This king of the garden required very little care and just one of these giants equaled all the blackberries I could pick in a lifetime. There was also some sinful satisfaction in the fact I got to take the biggest knife in the kitchen and sink it into its pink flesh. This green giant was my therapy for a childhood of imprisonment.


It should be no surprise I picked my nose as a kid because I was trained to pick: pick strawberries, pick tomatoes, pick cucumbers, pick apples, pick blackberries, pick okra, and pick ticks off my flesh. I was a picker and proud of it.


But in spite of all the sunburns, all the sore fingernails, all the blood lost to ticks, I found something growing in that garden I did not expect to find… a respect for my owners (parents).


James would come home after ten hours of hard labor and pull an antique garden tiller out of the shed that would never start. After a few pokes with a screwdriver and a can of starting fluid, it would crackle to life, breathing smoke like a dragon. Tilling a garden is like trying to make an alligator eat your grass in straight rows while holding its tail without getting bitten. It requires forearms like Popeye and determination like Wiley Coyote. With the July sun beating down on his sweating forehead, my father did something he didn’t love to do, fighting and struggling with the machine each and every step. Like a knight he went into the cave, but rather than slay the dragon, he trained it. This important summer lesson taught me to fight, even when you don’t feel like it, because other people are usually counting on you to bring home the bacon, or at least the tomatoes and lettuce to go with it.


A few minutes later we’d all sit down and have a five- course meal. Beverly’s commitment to vegetables was unmatched. She would plant them, water them, pick them, shuck them, cook them, cut them, bag them, freeze them, un-thaw them, and cook them again. I once heard in the battle between the rock and stream, the stream always wins, not by strength but by persistence. My mother was a stream, at times water torture, who taught me if you finish what you start you won’t go hungry.


In a way parents are like a piece of sand in our life’s shell, an annoying intrusion that in retrospect is the most beautiful thing that ever happens to us. Through discipline and tough love they prepare us for the art of being faithful in long-term relationships. They teach us the thorn is part of the rose and the race is part of the victory. Our parents, like God, teach us sometimes loving someone involves bleeding on their behalf… sometimes even when they’re the ones causing us the injury.


My parents were patient; my parents were forgiving; and my parents were hell bent on making sure I didn’t go there. Their plan was simple: put Timmy in the garden and make him eat his vegetables and pray, pray that he understands that for anything in life to taste good you not only have to understand where it comes from but also what it cost to get it on your plate. And hopefully he’ll understand that bad taste in his mouth, that sand of tough love, is producing something in him that will be regarded by those who love him later in life as sacred.



Because You Loved Me: by Celine Dion


You're the one who held me up, never let me fall
You're the one who saw me through it all
You were my strength when I was weak
You were my voice when I couldn't speak
You were my eyes when I couldn't see
You saw the best there was in me
Lifted me up when I couldn't reach
You gave me faith 'cause you believed
I'm everything I am
Because you loved me

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