To Till The Land

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[This Commentary originally appeared in the April 26, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]

CarosaCommentaryNewLogo_259A few months ago, while having dinner with my grandparents, I informed them of my plans to have a garden this year. My grandfather seemed pleased. He explained this year would be the first year he didn’t have a garden, so he felt as though he was passing the torch to me.

My grandfather’s gardens tended to be quite large. I remember watching him work in them all day under the summer sun, his white hat reflecting the bright rays. I could never figure out why my grandfather needed to work in his garden all day. I guess as a child, I thought tomatoes grew all by themselves.

When we reached a certain age, my father introduced my brother and me to gardening. He carefully taught us the intricacies of planting and watering. I recall most vividly the springtime ritual of turning over the soil. I hated this part. So did my brother. Nonetheless, we loyally completed our assignment. He turned over one half as I turned over the other half. Luckily, he preferred the square shovel so I generally got the pointed spade.

It would take us many days to turn over the garden. This, mind you, had nothing to do with the size of the garden. Indeed, my father could turn over the modest plot in a single night after he came home from work. Did I mention my brother and I hated turning over the garden.

One year we discovered the rotor-tiller. This godsend made life much more pleasant. Unfortunately, the clumsy machine – a used model borrowed from someone – always broke down after churning only one row. We begged our father to buy a new rotor-tiller, but he opted for a ride-on lawn mower instead. (This broke down, too, but that’s another story.)

Well, the years have passed and my father, who doesn’t have a garden now, has finally bought a rotor-tiller. He permitted me to borrow it to turn over my infant garden, which at the time closely resembled a 12’x14’ rectangle of grass surrounded by the remainder of the lawn. My experience with the rotor-tiller must have entertained my neighbors.

I started confidently. I gassed up the machine and triggered its ignition. It started without a hitch and slowly walked it to the designated portion of my backyard. I calculated I’d need six or eight passes up and down to finish the job – a half hour, forty-five minutes, tops. Heck, with a rotor-tiller it would be a piece of cake.

For the next three hours, I sweated like no man has sweated before. The hard ground proved most stubborn. The sharp steel blades of the machine refused to dig into the solid earth. This caused the unit to run away from me several times. I’m sure my mother – as well as OSHA – would have disapproved of the way I used the device.

I quickly learned to hold on more tightly. I also pushed down, trying to get the apparatus to bite into the hard ground. From afar, the local kids must have laughed. Here stood this man with an angry machine in front of him. Bow legged and leaning backward more than forty-five degrees for support, my hands fiercely gripped the V-shaped handle bars. I looked like I sat on an invisible Harley-Davidson Hog.

Once engaged, the rotor-tiller bounced like a bucking bronco. I constantly yanked down on the contraption, always on the brink of losing control. Every so often, technology prevailed and the hunk of red metal and motor would break free from my grasp and fly forward in fits and starts before flipping over and dying. Inevitably, every action having an equal and opposite reaction, this action would cause me to fall fast on my behind.

While the kids giggled, I envisioned more than a few of my neighbors remained one digit away from dialing 911. I could imagine a videotape of my antics being distributed by the American Medical Association under the title “An Accident Waiting to Happen.”

Yet the ground yielded and ultimately turned over. Sweat and toil won out. I suffered no physical damage, and my mother, living in Albany, never got a chance to get worried. My father, upon reviewing my work, honestly asked why I chose such a small size. He also reminded me I have to turn over the garden again next year. Great.

As I glance outside my kitchen window, the garden now looks more like a garden and less like a lawn. The work has just begun, but I am excited and ready. I could almost taste those tomatoes, now.

Last Week #56: Earth Day and Kodak Bashing (originally published on April 19, 1990)
Next Week #58: The Heroes of the Hyatt (originally published on May 3, 1990)

[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]


  1. Chris Carosa says

    Author’s Comment: The garden yielded bushels of tasty vegetables and even showcased a row of sunflowers one year. I planted the sunflowers to distract the deer. Ultimately, and sadly, the deer won. It started with the lettuce and other light greens. The tomatoes and the garlic held out the longest. Eventually, these Italian staples proved no match for the herds of deer roaming the Town of Mendon. For many years my garden has sat idle wild, meaning I let the weeds grow, hoping to dissuade the deer from my fruit trees. That didn’t work, either.

    This past fall my son insisted on planting garlic. His name is Peter. My grandfather’s name was Peter. Maybe he’ll have my grandfather’s luck when it comes to gardening.

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