Golf, Garden, and Goals

Give me a blank page, and I’ll write something eloquent.  A red pen, and I’ll correct language conventions. A software error, and I’ll resolve it promptly. But give me a pitching wedge, and that golf ball will miss its mark completely.  Last weekend at Top Golf, I swung and missed on more than one occasion, but Charming was gracious enough not to laugh.

I’m always more comfortable competing in events where I naturally excel; nevertheless, I’ve found a way to mimic the thrill factor of a roller coaster by stepping outside that comfort zone and taking a risk.  I’ve only played a few dozen holes on a course, but I was excited to check out this unique driving range that reminded me more of a bowling alley where the lanes were open to the air and filled with colored targets.  Each ball we played contained a tracker, and a small screen reported our points based on where they landed.

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There was no thrill in whiffing on an attempt with a nine iron.  Rather, I felt oddly frustrated and disappointed in myself.  After topping the ball a few times, I looked back sheepishly at Charming in embarrassment.  He’d played on his high school golf team, so he knew a thing or two… and his score reflected that.  I kept lining my feet up like I’d learned at the correct angles from the ball, adjusting position and backswing for respective clubs.

My father recited, “Keep your head down,” sixty times that night from my mental recording created the first time he took me to a course.  It seemed with every correction I made to my form, I’d neglected a different part that I’d been doing right before.  Staring down from a second-level bay at the center of a green 125 yard target, it seemed an impossible task to control the course of the ball so far with my body alone.

When I weighed myself a month ago, hitting my target weight also loomed as an insurmountable task.  If I gave myself a summer deadline, I was going to have to commit with every fiber (and minimal carbs) to a lifestyle change of epic standards.  For the first week, I stepped gingerly on the scale daily hoping to see the numbers decrease.  The loss was too slow.

So I readjusted.  I weighed myself once a week and took my measurements every two weeks.  That way, when the scale hasn’t moved but centimeters are missing from my hips, I don’t lose hope that all this discipline has been wasted.  I kicked up my workouts, even sneaking some in on the weekends with Charming.  My gym mentor Chuck got me hitting the weights.  I deny myself potato chips every day.

Clearly, this is not sustainable.  I’ve dropped fifteen pounds, and I have a ways to go, but it no longer seems insurmountable.  In fact, it seems possible, within my reach, and that fact alone helps me resist the urge to order Anna’s Combination pizza from out in Buckroe, too far for delivery.  I then reassure myself that this endurance is only temporary, that when I achieve my goal I’ll be able to indulge on occasion.

My friend Angel’s wedding is just a few weeks away, and I hadn’t ordered my bridesmaid dress because I was waiting for my measurements to match the size eight. A few days ago, I tried it on in the store, the sales associate failing to convince me to also take a size ten into the fitting room.  After zipping it up, I stepped in front of the mirror.  Moment of truth one month into lifestyle change: it fit perfectly!

There is a thrill factor in squeezing into a dress you weren’t sure you could fit.  I giggled and jumped up and down, wishing I had someone to share the moment with besides the disinterested employee.  There was another thrill when I returned from a long weekend away to find my vegetable garden overflowing and my newly planted herb garden budding already.

When I planted the drowned herb garden and vegetables a couple of months ago, I didn’t have confidence that they would grow.  It, too, seemed an impossible, insurmountable task to put minuscule dots into the earth and expect cucumbers to decorate my summer salads.  For weeks, nothing grew on one side of the bed, and I assumed I’d failed.  But I’ve tasted the thrill in seeing something I planted from a seed blossom before, and I want it again.

So when the tomato plants were drooping, I put in cages.  To be honest, I’m not sure what is a plant and what is a weed, so I haven’t tended to those much. I drilled holes in the bottom of the herb garden barrel and replanted.  Gardening is not like writing for me… I don’t enjoy every minute; however, the minutes that count are worth all the labor and readjustments it took to just to see something thrive.

When something thrives, it’s living at peak existence.  Those thrill-loaded moments are packed with heightened emotion and a return to normalcy after.  Whether it’s glimpsing the first green leaves of my evening glories tonight or slipping into a bridesmaid’s gown in my goal size, it’s exciting!  I took risks.  I stepped outside my comfort zone.  I tried my hand at challenges where I wasn’t expecting to succeed.

Like Friday night under the lights at Top Golf, when Charming finally asked if I wanted some advice.  He had me make some more adjustments to my stance. I imagined making an arc with the club and scooping the golf ball up to launch it straight at my target.  I kept my head down.  I swung with control and vigor.  And I hit the tractor that collects the balls.  Mine bounced off and rolled into a nearby target to score me a few points.

But here’s the thrill factor: I had won the game. I jumped up and down and then hugged him (to the best of my recollection).  Charming had added a rule before we started that made hitting that tractor an automatic win.  My accumulated points were abysmal by the end of that round, but Charming insisted I had won.  I giggled on the inside, then on the outside.  What had seemed an impossible task found unexpected victory for me.

Personally, I don’t think I’ve been thriving lately.  Like my garden, much of my current existence is in the labor and readjustment phase before the thrill of the bloom.  Before the ball finds its mark.  Before the scale reaffirms.  I think that when something we desire is out of our grasp, we have to find a way to grow in the waiting, so that when the time comes and it’s within reach, we’ll be able to thrive.

While Charming was readjusting my golf swing, calories were burning off and my cucumber vines were spreading.  Like with the scale or the tractor or my garden, sometimes I have to evaluate myself differently in order to see the sparks of progress.

It’s in the moments before the moments that count, the labor and readjustments before we see a thing in abstraction in full bloom.  These moments when we’re waiting.  My waiting room.  Before I witness my longings come to fruition.  These are the moments when God works in the soil to prepare for the harvest.

I suppose these moments count, too, after all.

All the Ups and Downs

Three minutes. Thirty people. A 205-foot vertical drop building to 70 mph. That’s the basic thrill-seeking formula for the Griffon rollercoaster in Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The neighbor children’s shrieks of delighted play echoing from across the street are whispers compared to the collective high-pitched scream as we hurdled toward the ground. This weekend was Charming’s first time on the Griffon. But it wasn’t mine.

As a season’s pass holder, Busch offers me one free spring pass for a friend. Having waited in vain for a warm, sunny day, Sunday was the last chance to tempt my beau into an afternoon of fleeting adventure before free fizzled away. It was chilly and sprinkling. I lent Charming his own hoodie and wore the one I’d purchased on our second date at Hallow Scream when Busch Gardens was also uncomfortably cold.

The weather kept away less-devoted rollercoaster enthusiasts, which amounted to minimal wait time and clear pathways. While we tackled half a dozen assorted tracks, we chatted in line and reminisced on our last visit in October. Our time was limited then, and the park had been transformed into a scary Halloween movie set, so this May afternoon was different experience entirely.

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Every visit to Busch Gardens seems uniquely different to me. The rides and faces may run together, but invariably certain attractions remind me of my various companions to the park before. When I see Bert and Ernie’s Loch Adventure, I think of my nieces and nephews. The gelato vendor in Italy conjures images of my sister-in-laws laughing together. I rode Tempesto, the newest rollercoaster, for the first time with my friends Angela and Rob. And I rode Alpengeist with some of my former students.

While most of my memories at Busch Gardens are recalled with an involuntary smile, the Griffon elicits a rather grim expression. Because I honestly didn’t remember having ridden it nine years ago, the day after my brother’s wedding here in Hampton. That was until I was recently riffling through an old box of important papers in search of an impertinent receipt; suddenly, in my hands I was holding a picture of me and my ex-husband before we were married.

His eyes were squeezed shut, mine were wide open, but we were both smiling as Griffon’s camera caught us on that ride. I like to keep a souvenir for experiences like this, and on that Sunday, it was the park ride photograph, framed in fiery colors to mimic the rollercoaster. We had been there before, of course, how could I forget? It was that visit that inspired our amusement-park themed honeymoon in Orlando.

Though time may not erase memories, when assisted by subconscious pleas, I think it can bury them when they no longer carry positive connotations, helping us move on by tethering unhelpful past moments in opaque wrapping. Our view is clear, unobstructed by memories that might creep in and weaken our resolve.

When I was soul-searching before my divorce, it was a collection of moments like those at Busch Gardens that rightly plagued the horizon. I saw all we had been. I saw what we were. I could never reconcile the two. But time, between then and now, softened the emotional attachment to some of our memories together. I feel no anger or bitterness despite the events which led to our eventual separation. I still think of him as a generally good guy.

I rode Griffon again last year with a different man. We were together too long to consider it a rebound relationship, but when it began, it was simply about having fun again. In the months following my divorce, I was desolate and lost. I met him at work and he asked for my number. We texted for a month before going to a movie together. The weeks that followed included Enchanted Forest Water Safari, local carnivals, the New York State Fair, my casino initiation, hiking in the Adirondacks… it was one adventure after another.

After I moved to Virginia, we seemed to successfully navigate the long-distance thing for a season. Last spring, we broke it off. Our last day together as a couple we spent at Busch Gardens, and we rode Griffon. And time hasn’t wrapped that memory up yet. It still has a powerful emotional attachment. Why can I forget strapping in next to my husband who I was with for nearly a decade but still vividly remember the smile of a man who was just passing through my life?

Griffon is a rollercoaster, designed by man to produce a great thrill factor. The suspense builds as the car climbs to the top. That was like my relationship with my first husband, always fighting its way upward but never reaching the top. We made promises and expectations. We planned for a certain future, but complications ended our ride before we realized any of them. My subconscious and time, thus, bury the memories when considering the loss connected with them could cripple me.

In an article for The Virginian-Pilot, Preston Wong wrote, “Griffon is floorless, giving riders a sense of vulnerability and, for those in the front row, an idea of how it must feel to fly.” A month after our ride on that rollercoaster, I found out my long-distance boyfriend had been cheating on me. And the floor dropped out like it does at the start of the attraction. When the rollercoaster is made of steel, we welcome vulnerability.

When the rollercoaster is our lives and the floor drops out, we hit the panic button. I wanted off the ride. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year. It feels like so much longer. Our relationship centered around creating memories, so it makes sense that with the wealth of moments we collected that time will have to work a little harder, that my subconscious might have to start begging.

But I think I remember our moments together because they are still helpful in combating the grief I experienced in the wake of that fated revelation. I feel no anger or bitterness despite the events which led to our eventual separation. I still think of him as a generally good guy, too. Our rollercoaster relationship ended after a year and a half. The Griffon only lasts three minutes.

Charming is the third man with whom I’ve shared the Griffon experience. We shrieked and cried with delight as we made our own memory. After the ride, we looked at our attraction picture on the big screen and laughed at ourselves. We didn’t need to buy the picture. This moment is fresh and etched in my mind.

We don’t get on the rollercoaster for the floors to drop out or for the climb to the top. We’re seeking the thrill of the drop. That’s a blink of an eye for theme park ride, but in life, I’m hoping for a half a century or so. They say the third time’s a charm.

From Water to Wine

A little rain makes me nostalgic. Persistent rain makes me restless. Restlessness produces an almost gag-like reflex of intentional action. I’ve committed myself these past few wet, dreary weeks to a strict diet and exercise regimen that I survive by promising myself it’s only temporary. I hit the weights and the elliptical while I’m waiting for the sun to return and warm my spirits.

When the Spring Cleaning bug hits me, it’s not limited to closets and base boards. Physical appearance is one facet of self-improvement. The bright summer sun is as unforgiving to collections of dust as it is to extra pounds around the waistline. With bathing suit season fast approaching, I’m riding the urgency wave to a beach two sizes smaller. Free from contending undertows, I’m on trajectory to reach that shore.

Spring also ushers in attention to the garden. In brief reprises from the downpours, I’ve tended to the lawn and the plants. While the improvement efforts in my midsection support spring productivity, the relentless rains these past few weeks have ushered in an onslaught of garden growth… and touch of death. My impatiens doubled in size. My snap dragons are blooming again. There are green shoots marking the beginnings of vegetables all throughout the bed, though lacking any pattern reminiscent of Grandpa’s rows. The herb garden, however, sadly drown.

Restlessness produces action in the soil like it does in my fitness efforts. What we see on the surface of the garden is beautiful only if the unseen portions of the plants – its roots – are healthy and thriving. Since I can’t see what’s beneath the earth, I assess the health of each plant by its leaves and flowers. I add nutrients, prune away dead springs, rip out weeds… all to care for an investment I can’t actually see.

But when I planted my garden, I wasn’t excited about the roots. I was just waiting for the blossoming festival. In fact, the critical function of the hidden mitochondria of the garden didn’t really hit me until this weekend when Charming, ever-ready to help me cross another item off my bucket list, took me on a wine tasting tour. We had an estimated four hours before the rains would resume, so we headed west and dabbled.

Each winery we visited boasted its own unique qualities. One vineyard’s processing facility was built into a hillside with granite soil in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the cellar, the architect had left one wall of natural granite. There, more than thirty feet below ground, the water glistening over the stone mesmerized me. While this has untold meaning for the winemaking process that I couldn’t retell after one lesson with the granite distracting me, its effect for me was to force me to consider the importance of what’s beneath the surface.

Above ground and outside again waiting for Charming, the rains had resumed and abated for a moment just long enough for me to stare at the hillside laden with elements that would eventually become wine. What was above the surface was breathtaking, but I found the threatening storm clouds above more powerful still when I considered their vast reach, deep into the heart of the winery.

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That encumbered, pregnant moment produced a singular awareness. All of my Spring Cleaning tasks have centered around what you can see. Scrub, dust, and vacuum. Fold and hang clothes. Frequent the gym and daily deny myself potato chips. Even the garden has been a direct product of my desire to see growth and vegetation… above the surface.

Descending the stairs some two dozen feet into a dimly lit commercial wine cellar, I was blind to anything but the glistening beads of water clinging to granite. I could see what was happening beneath the topsoil. This was the figurative mitochondria of the garden, the powerhouse driving potential for all future growth above the horizon. This winery thrives because it focuses its attention on what can’t be seen from the typical vantage point.

And the tour gave me a long enough glimpse at the foundation of growth below that when I saw the fields again afterward, I knew they wouldn’t exist if the roots I couldn’t see weren’t healthy and thriving.

I’ve dropped a pant size, but am I really healthy and thriving? I’ve managed to exhibit self-control and discipline in my housework, lawn care, and fitness formula, but what’s going on beneath the surface?

I have found it true for me (and would hope I am not alone in this) that when I’m restless with my life, when it’s been cloudy a bit too long, that I turn to something I can control. In the past that’s been picking up a new skill like troubleshooting computers or leading worship at church. I find something to throw myself into that would be considered self-improvement.

This time, it was that bucket list item: Achieve my ideal weight. It’s now or never, I thought, as I considered my list of 30 Things to Do in My Thirties and pushed aside all the ones that aren’t possible yet. When the definition popped out in my shoulders and I fit a dress I haven’t been able to squeeze into since last summer, it was reassuring.

Because we value beauty, and isn’t beauty what we see? It’s in that plush pink of impatiens blossoms and the promise of a tomato just forming. For a plant, what’s beneath the surface will match what’s above it. Healthy roots produce healthy blossoms.

But if a person is healthy on the outside, it is a product of only the physical. It does not reflect the emotional, spiritual, or mental spheres. For me to effectively exterminate the Spring Cleaning bug, I needed to turn my attention to what’s beneath the surface.

Suspended in the foothills, surrounded by lush green and threatening indigo, I was keenly aware of what I could not see. I imagined a cross-section of my life and wondered if there would be water droplets glistening there, too. When Charming walked me back to the car, I knew that what I would remember most about this wine tasting tour was not the unique blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, but slabs of granite.

And I knew the next phase in my self-improvement is to tend to my roots. I need to be firmly planted on the Solid Rock if I’m going to yield any fruit of substance. What’s beneath the surface now is critical, because when I’m six feet under, it won’t matter how clean my house was or what size dress they bury me in. These are signs of physical beauty, but health and capacity to thrive start in the soil.

When You’re in over Your Head

A sprinter in my schooldays, I know how to prepare for my races. The Rugged Maniac in Petersburg this weekend, however, was not my race, though leaping over fiery mounds felt oddly reminiscent of the 110 m hurdles. My best event was a quarter of the way around the track. This mud run was the equivalent of more than twelve revolutions with twenty-five obstacles looming at every bend in the muddy terrain.

My friend Ariel had urged me to commit to the run back in January. We registered together, but we drove separately. She and her racing crew arrived after me and were placed in a later wave, so I braved the starting line alone. The nervous butterflies reminded me of waiting in the wings on opening night of Into the Woods my senior year of high school, waiting with my father before walking down the aisle, and waiting for my turn to address the class at my graduate commencement.

My parents were there for all three of these major moments, and though they couldn’t attend my mud run, I wasn’t on my own at the starting line. Charming stood only a few feet away ready with the camera to capture my voluntary sentencing. While mapping out some of the obstacles beforehand, he’d had the opportunity to give me some pertinent advice. About five minutes into the race, Charming was lost from view, but my mind would replay his voice at the most opportune moments.

The first twenty minutes were fun and exciting. There was a Wounded Warrior crew competing in my wave, in uniform and inspiring. The initial obstacles were minor challenges, sufficient only to unwittingly build my confidence. My gym mentor Chuck had been training with me for weeks, coaxing me to hit the weights using a most effective strategy: he’d started with exercises for muscles that would very quickly produce definition. It worked. I was seeing progress, so I committed.

When I breezed through the beginning of the course, I was certain I would finish without incident. I hadn’t seen any mile markers when I came to it, the event that eternally klutzy individuals fear: crawling through water under low-hanging barbed wire. Charming was nowhere in sight for this one, but I heard him loud and clear. “Keep your head down. Keep your eyes down. Your shoulders and back will follow. You don’t have to see the end. You’ll come to it eventually,” my mental paraphrase quoted him.

And that was oddly reminiscent of my first time golfing with my father where he said, “Keep your head down,” more times than probably pleased his patience.  But our families have a unique vantage point from anyone else on the planet. While their presence in our defining moments is an unequivocal show of support, their advice, solicited or not, is an act of compassion.

I came out from the barbed wire unscathed, Charming’s strategy having brought me safely to the other side. He had given me advice because he cared about my well-being. I only knew that I needed his pre-race practical insights when I was face down in the obstacle. It wasn’t until then that I was grateful for it. Often is the case for counsel.

My parents have been a flowing fountain of support and compassion since my conception.   There have been times when I dismissed the relevancy of their advice, one resulting in a divorce where neither said, “I told you so.” I suppose I’ve lived long enough now to see that they’re usually right, and so it’s rare that I disagree with their suggested courses of action… and when I do, I’ve arrived there by creating a formula from all of their past pearls of wisdom.

Perhaps I’m selfish in hoping they’ll choose to retire near me. After all, I am only one in an increasingly large family. But it would be selfish not to give my fictitious future family the benefit of their routine presence. Their support and compassion. No babysitter could, ninety-nine percent of the time, handle a situation in exactly the same manner, right down to the choice of applicable idiomatic expressions that irk my father. My mother could.

When I ran my first 400 m hurdles as a high school junior, I wiped out on the wet track. I don’t remember if I finished the race. I know I ripped the knee of my leggings. And I know my dad was there to put me back together. To be honest, though I know I often disregarded his advice in my teens and twenties, I can’t put my finger on more than one or two specific memories.

But for the times he was right, I could fill a devotional. Like not taking a year off from college when I moved to Nashville. Or how to choose the right car to avoid buying more than I could afford. Or if I kept my head down, my driver would actually connect with the golf ball.

For me, I think I’ve come to invariably forgive any unwelcomed advice from my parents because I’ve lived long enough to see that I’ll never know when I might need some small piece of it. I tuck their words away, and when I need them, I replay them like I did so naturally with Charming’s voice beneath that barbed wire. To advise me about my life, my parents had to be present in it. Their presence was support. I ran faster when Dad was by the finish line. I sang clearer when my mother was in the audience.

And apparently, I endured the Rugged Maniac better when Charming was in view. By then, I was feeling the burn and finishing the course wasn’t as certain. I’d gashed my shin in a surprise mud pit, but there was no pain, just blood and adrenaline. Seeing Charming, camera ready at the next obstacle, I found myself smiling in spite of myself. Family, and those we welcome as family, support us with their presence. When he watched me navigate the next barbed wire feat, in between keeping my head down, I was still smiling.

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Progress happens when we’re not looking. It’s the mile markers that tell us we’ve made any at all. When I felt like I was in over my head swimming through an underground tunnel filled with roots that my colorful imagination had transformed into snakes, I tried the same bit of advice. I kept my head and my eyes down. Eventually, the end came. My heart was racing, but I’d completed two-thirds of the race by then.

While I was waiting for the final obstacle, The Warped Wall, I could just see Charming in the front of the crowd beyond other competitors’ attempts to scale it and was determined to make it on my first try. I thought about Ariel, my gym mentor, and Charming’s support in getting me this far. The final mile marker would redeem the progress.

I took off like a sprinter popping out of the blocks and past and present blurred. It could have been my father or Charming at the finish line in that instant. The feeling was the same. I’ve lived long enough to see the simplest acts of a compassionate man are his presence and his counsel.

And I made it up the wall on my first try.

Family, Food, and Fellowship

Grandpa Rubbo was a gardening guru. As a young sprite, I’d meander the orderly rows of his tomatoes and cucumbers in the backyard on Birch Road. We had fresh greens with every Sunday Dinner while he was agile. And it was a family affair when we canned tomato sauce in assembly line fashion, from Grandpa’s garden to our table for seasons to come.

My mother’s father sowed a seed in my dreams, too; that’s why I wrote #17 on my Thirty Things to Do in My Thirties list: Grow a vegetable garden. Grammy Palma modeled the yard landscaped by hand with flourishing blossoms throughout. Just as my garden make-over project last spring in the front yard had me imagining her beside me in the dirt, my first attempt at starting a vegetable garden saw Grandpa beside me, coaching me with specific distances in inches for each seed to be planted.

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I can’t cross this one off my bucket list just yet, though. It stipulates that I have to grow a garden, not merely plant one. Not only will that take time, but there’s no assurance the seeds will even take root. Not fifteen minutes after I’d finished planting in a beautiful spring heat, the sky opened up, setting loose an unexpected, ominous storm. Then this morning, I was chasing a pair of hungry sparrows out of the newly sown bed in my backyard. What if the slight shift in the course of the sun or the growth of the trees reduces the sunlight in weeks to come?

I remember feeling the same way when I planted my evening glories last year: hope for the best, expect the worst (that way you’re sometimes grateful but never disappointed). When the first of the seeds to take root finally broke through the soil, tiny green faces smiling up at me, I imagined what they would become. When the first blossom shot open and shouted beauty during a writing night, I conceded my imagination had fallen flat. As Grammy’s morning glories glorified the sunrise, so my evening glories served the sunset.

I hope that my vegetables will thrive like Grandpa’s did, but I don’t expect them to. He developed and honed this craft for years. Grandpa was precise, dependable, and brilliant. A foreman at a printing press by day and an Italian Pentecostal minister by night, it seemed there was no limit to his abilities. I knew him after his Queens’ years; when I was born, Grandpa moved Upstate, bought our house, and made it a home. We moved into a bigger house; Mom knew I would need my own room.

That man could pray. He would have been too focused on his Christian mission to realize that he was a captivating orator. I had just turned fifteen when Grandpa lost a battle with stomach cancer. They’d had to remove portions of his stomach, and Mom believes that he lost the will to live when he could no longer eat and his only form of nourishment came through a tube. I was old enough to grieve him, old enough to know how much I’d miss his prayers at Sunday Dinner.

It would take me nearly two more decades to find myself moved to tears late on a May Monday evening, remembering those fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, hankering for a taste of our homemade sauce by the spoonful while it simmered on the stove in Grandpa’s basement. I am old enough now to know that his dedication to toiling in the garden was an equal investment to the joy he gleaned from filling our table with his bounty, fresh food for the Italian family.

Italians marry the three F’s as a foundation for any gathering worth having: family, food, and fellowship. Like making pasta sauce, eating was a family affair in my home. At breakfast, we’d gather around the kitchen table for our Pops and Eggo Waffles, the scene on the TV evolving from cartoons to Sports Center. At dinner, we’d gather around the dining room table for a home-cooked meal. Mostly, it was my mother behind the apron, but my father could willingly jump in and whip up some masterpieces.

Since Thursday was his day off, Dad would prepare and serve homemade pizza that night every week when I was in high school. On Sundays, the grandparents would join us for an early afternoon meal of an infinite array of pasta cuisine. We didn’t eat dinner in front of the TV. These meals were for celebrating first, in prayer, the One who had provided for us. We then celebrated each other, sharing highlights of the day. We even did a family Bible Study after dinner for awhile, still gathered around Mom’s keenly adorned table.

It really isn’t any wonder that when facing the reality that he would never taste another bite of gnocci or Ascioti’s meatballs or his vegetables or pasta sauce, Grandpa lost heart. Family, food, and fellowship. That’s our reality, not weakly gripping the iron rails of an ICU hospital bed, struggling for words. He was a brilliant orator, a strong Italian man. He thrived on the pulpit, in his garden, and at the table.   In the absence of food, I think God stirred up in my grandfather a longing for heaven, for fullness of life free from the entrapments of his failing body.

When I was hoeing and digging, preparing the soil, I realized what backbreaking labor Grandpa had endured all those years to bless us. But I imagine that he was at home in the garden as I am, delighted when a miniscule globe planted in rich earth grows and turns into something more. And as my imagination fell flat with my evening glories, I will be pleasantly delighted if my vision for a vegetable garden like Grandpa’s was falls flat and ends up yielding fresh greens all summer long.

I planted some seedlings; however, most of the bed is filled with seeds that have a long journey ahead before showing signs of life. My herb garden has found some success, boasting parsley, oregano, and basil. The last of my azaleas are in bloom. The fuchsia baskets, impatiens, and begonias are full of color. The dozen red blossoms of my knockout roses please me every time I pass by. But I knew from experience that they would thrive.

That’s not the case for new plants. Charming’s mother gave me some seeds on Easter after dinner. By the time I put them in the ground, I’d completely forgotten what they were. In only five days’ time, there was a row of green foliage. She told me then that they were Cosmos, and that they would grow tall and have bright flowers. New life excites me. My vegetable garden will be a similar plant-and-hope-for-the-best adventure, and if I start to see signs of life in my backyard, I’ll start dreaming of bringing the fresh greens to Sunday Dinner myself.

For Italians, it’s about family, food, and fellowship, and we welcome friends and acquaintances alike to our table to share in the trio of blessings. When Charming visits on the weekend, I relish the chance to prepare home-cooked meals like my mother did and feel the same return on investment as my grandfather did when Charming offers a satisfied smile. When he’s not here, my brother and sister-in-law open their table to me and we converse over pasta and meat sauce.

Grandpa Rubbo and Grammy Palma had a lot in common. They served the Lord. They cherished their families. They loved their gardens. And where these three meet, they blessed us. While they were sowing their love of gardening in me, they were also stirring in me a fervor for God and for family.

On the weeknights when I’m alone, I eat at the computer over schoolwork or Netflix. If it’s too quiet, I rock a Pandora station to cut through the silence, the ambient sound absent a husband or fussing children to gather around a table. I can imagine a family tucked in bed inside the house behind me as I write, but like with my evening glories, I hope to find that my imagination falls flat.

That my visions of fresh food from the garden and fellowship with a family of my own will not compare to the reality in store. Or that like God replaced Grandpa’s longing for food with a longing for heaven, God will stir up in me a different longing for my future. If you hope for the best but expect the worst, you’re never disappointed, right?

Still, if and when I pluck the first cucumber off a vine in my yard, I’ll sit at my dining room table and share a meal with my grandfather, his memory now so strong in our shared vegetable garden pursuits that I can almost feel his arms embracing me now, reminding me of the joy in the return on investment.