My 9 year old granddaughter came to spend the weekend with me on Friday. On Saturday she helped me with some garden work and for all that she is skinny as a toothpick, she can haul huge bags of potting soil with the best of the boys. On Sunday she helped me in the kitchen to prepare some salads and desserts for Monday when her Mom and the rest of the family would be coming up for a July 4th cookout.
I have to say she is becoming quite the little cook and even knows how to marinate and bake Grandma's tofu. As I was chopping up celery and onions for the macaroni salad, she asked why I just didn't use the slicer on the food processor instead of doing it by hand. I told her that even though using the food processor would be faster, I actually enjoyed chopping up the vegetables by hand. Sometimes there is a sweet nobility in keeping things simple.
Every time I chop up garlic for my spaghetti sauce, I feel my mother standing at the kitchen counter chopping and talking to me. I can remember coming home from school and doing my homework at the kitchen table while she chopped and stirred, and got dinner started. That's how I learned to cook, from watching her work while I sat there with my spelling words and my multiplication tables. The first time I got to do the chopping myself, under her very watchful eyes, I felt as if I had been inaugurated into a very special sorority that went back to all of my female ancestors. The simple act of cutting, chopping, slicing and stirring went back to the beginning of time. It connected me with all the women who came before me.
I feel that same way about gardening. Sure, I could spend a fortune on power trimmers and all kinds of gardening contraptions, but there is something so noble about my hands into the dirt and working up a good, honest sweat. Not only does it connect me to generations of folks who worked the land and grew their food (and still do), but it beats the cost of a membership to a gym and you don't need special workout clothes ... a pair of old pants, a t-shirt and some good muddy boots will do! Sometimes when digging out a new hole to plant something, I wonder how far down I would have to go to touch the soil of the first settlers in these parts, and I hope their spirits know that there are those of us who still keep the traditions alive.
After we were done with our gardening the other day, my granddaughter watched me as I sat with my mending pile and took care of a few rips and open seams. "Why don't you just buy new pants or a new shirt instead of trying to fix the old ones?" she asked. I think about this child, and all children, growing up in such a throw-away society, of people as well as clothes, and I am glad I am still here to answer that question. I tell her that these pants are my favorite yoga pants and that even though they have some tears in them, a little thread and patience will make them usable again. I can still do a Downward Dog in mended pants. As for the shirt, well, they have a picture of wolves on the front and she knows how much Grandma loves wolves. She asks me if I will teach her how to do this miraculous thing with a needle and thread so she can sew her dolls' clothes. I make a mental note to pick up a smaller thimble at the store.
Keeping it simple for me is keeping the lessons and traditions going from one generation to another. I don't need all the bells and whistles. I just need a good chopping knife, some needles and thread, and the memory of my Mom sitting in her favorite chair with her darning egg mending yet another pair of my Dad's socks and wondering how he managed to put so many holes in them. Simple is good. Simple works. Simple is home.
And so it is.