Story collected by Victoria McClain
As a child I remember growing up seeing my mother watering her potted plants in the apartment. I never thought anything of it at the time. I knew I wanted to help but I was too young to carry the water. Then one day I was at my Grandmother’s house visiting with my brother and my cousin, when my Grandmother requested our help in her garden. My grandmother’s garden consisted of beautiful rose bushes that aligned the sidewalk of her home; some planters of various exotic flowers, and a small vegetable garden on the side of her home. We were only permitted to go to her flower garden to pick the weeds and water the grass. The vegetable garden was off limits; my Grandmother was afraid we would damage the vegetables. Occasionally we were permitted to pick the vegetables in my Grandmother’s presence. Prior to that, I thought flowers grew beautifully in the ground on its own without any assistance. I was truly wrong.
Working in a garden or yard is hard work. After that experience in the yard I never wanted to help again. My Grandmother did not care that we did not like gardening. We all had to help, including my Grandmother’s adult children. You see, my Grandmother was raised on a farm where they grew various crops and slaughtered cows and pigs. My Grandmother, Alice Askew, was born to sharecroppers in Columbus, Mississippi in 1931. During the “Great Migration” my Grandmother came to Chicago and settled on the westside of Chicago in the Austin Community.
Growing up I would spend many summers at my Grandmother’s home; helping her in the garden planting seeds, pulling weeds, and watering her plants. My mother told me that my Grandmother has always had a garden, since she could remember. My Mother also said that this why she has to have potted plants; it reminds her of her mother’s garden and her grandmother’s garden. After my great mother stopped sharecropping, she moved to Memphis and had a garden in her yard. My mother would go in the yard with her “Big Ma” and pick vegetables from her garden to be cooked for dinner. I remember the summer of 2009 before my Grandmother past; she told me to go get some vegetables out of her garden. I picked some of the sweetest green tomatoes I had ever had.
I have always had an affinity for plants and being sustainable. I think that has a lot to do with being raised around plants and gardens. I remember watching my Mother and Grandmother love their plants with sunshine and water. Also they would hold conversations with them. It is funny how children repeat what they see as adults; I now find myself talking to plants whenever I am gardening.