by Charlene Burgi
This morning, I flashed back to when I was a little girl spending time with my Noni in her garden. As memory serves, it wasn’t a huge garden, but it was well-tended and its production seemed enormous in the eyes of this child. I looked forward to going out with her to see the vegetables, learn what was ready to pick and wait for the smaller fruit to reach the perfect size for consumption. I watched Noni sort through the plants, using the corners of her apron to form a bucket to collect various crops to add to the evening supper.
Precious moments and the richness of spending time with my grandmother must have etched deeply into my soul, as I thought of her while in my garden today. I struggled unsuccessfully to hold onto ripened vegetables in my arms. I searched for an empty five-gallon can to deposit the bounty of the day. It was this exercise that transported me back in time as I thought of how simply her apron worked.
The full-size aprons she wore also included pockets that must have carried tools or some type of cutting instrument to assist in correcting a plant’s errant growth. I recalled that she used scissors to cut the long-stemmed carnations that were growing on the other side of the garden walkway. There were yellow flowers that attracted bees located on the back side of the garden with the vegetables. I don’t remember what type they were; I only recollect that you could cup the flower to catch a bee inside without getting stung—at least, so my cousin Don tried to convince me. I watched him succeed at his prowess a few times before his hand was on the receiving end of a stinger. Noni was there in her apron to wipe away his tears and scolded us for potentially harming the bees. Thereafter the flowers and bees remained undisturbed.
As I look back, my family never talked about attracting beneficial insects, but they knew the bees were there to pollinate and contribute to the success of the garden. As children, we learned the need to protect nature’s workers as insecticides were unheard of in this garden.
My thoughts continued to drift back in time. After harvesting the daily crops, Noni and I would move to the front porch overlooking Second Street in San Rafael, where we could be found plucking string beans from her apron as she sat on the old chair. We talked and laughed as we trimmed the ends off of the string beans, snapped them in half and plopped them into a pot to cook after the task was complete. Some days our time was spent in the same fashion except we would be shelling peas or beans.
I use to love sitting on that old porch covered with Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and marvel at the brilliant red and orange leaves the vine produced in the fall. Fuchsias were planted within sight below the porch, and dinner-plate-size dahlias grew across from fuchsias gracing the meandering walkway that led to the vegetable garden. The scent of fragrant roses tucked within the dahlias wafted through the air when we walked by. Little did I realize then that the garden planting was broken down into hydrozones.
The memories made me wonder how my family learned so much about gardening. These immigrants from Italy knew how to prepare the soil, nurture the earth for maximum health and bumper crops, appreciate the beauty of flowers, and work with nature. With that knowledge came the apron that held not only ripened veggies, but also a store of memories.
Ironically, this year both of my twenty-plus-year-old granddaughters requested that I make aprons for them. I think this grandma needs to get busy! Those aprons seem to hold precious memories!