Asparagus is my favorite vegetable. I am grateful when I can find it out of season in the local grocery store. But there is nothing like asparagus right out of the garden.
I first experienced this years ago when I was in graduate school in Mississippi. Four of us were renting a house that had an overgrown garden out back. One day in early spring, we were looking at the back yard, and one of the others noticed something. “I think that is asparagus!” she gasped. How could that be, since we had never planted anything? She explained that asparagus is a perennial which returns year after year with minimal care. We had found a gold mine.
That night we steamed the first asparagus I have ever eaten straight from the garden, and I have never looked back.
In our last garden, Jerry and I harvested asparagus for about 10 years. We bought mature roots to plant the first year we lived there, and even though you’re not supposed to harvest them that first spring, we might have picked a few just to make sure they were going to taste okay. They did. Every year they produced more and more. When we moved here, we did the same thing. A good asparagus bed, I am told, will last thirty years.
For about eight weeks every spring, starting around the first of April, one of us goes into the garden every day or two and harvests at least a half pound of asparagus – sometimes much more. I never tire of it. When Jerry is out of town during asparagus season, I tell myself it doesn’t keep very well and I eat whatever comes in, knowing it would have easily fed two if he had been there. I should feel guilty about that but I don’t. I just feel happy.
Now here’s the thing that does make me feel guilty: until we moved here, I had never planted the asparagus I eat. In Mississippi, some previous dweller planted those lovely stalks which later gave me such pleasure. Did she hate to leave them? Did he want to dig them up and take them with him? It didn’t matter. My housemates and I took them over. Even in our last house, when Jerry and I bought the asparagus roots, he is the one who ended up doing all the work. And let me tell you, asparagus planting is work. You have to dig a trench about eighteen inches deep so the roots will survive the winter. Then you lay the roots out so they are not tangled up with each other, and you cover them back up with the soil you have improved with such things as sand and peat moss. That may not sound too terribly bad, until I tell you that, because I love asparagus so much, I insisted we purchase three sets of twenty roots. When they came, we had over seventy of them. Jerry dug an eighteen-inch-deep, twelve-inch-wide trench over 100 feet long to accommodate all my asparagus. The problem is, I can’t remember what I was doing that day which prohibited me from helping him. I hope I also was doing something constructive in the garden (was it preparing the other beds for spring crops?). I seem to recall being present when the digging was going on, but having other work to do. All I know is, I reaped the fruit of all his labor.
My asparagus guilt issues reflect some of the best parts of my life. It seems that for much of the joy that comes to my life, others have done the hard work. When we married, I was twenty-eight and childless and he was the father of two teenaged girls. As with all married couples, we made and meant our vows to love and care for each other and our families (meaning my parents – his had died young – and his daughters), not knowing what those vows would mean as the years passed. For me, they have meant almost nothing but gift. I found two young women who welcomed me into their family. And I found myself a Meemaw at an early age.
This, I have to say, is the best gift of all. Now there are five grandchildren. They are the joy of our lives. This should not have been a surprise, as I know many grandparents who find their grandchildren to be a source of continual happiness. But there is a difference between me and most of the grandparents I know. I am a “step”-grandmother, and have no real right to grandmotherhood. Every moment is pure gift. The joy seems that much sweeter because of it.
How much of our lives is gift. We reap where we have not sown. We find joy in the things other people have produced. It is true that we don’t deserve these things; that is what is meant by the word “gift.”
When Jesus talked about loving one another, he said that is how the disciples of his would be known. It was a new commandment. To love each other is pure gift, because no matter who we are, we never fully deserve the love of other people.
I wonder what gifts of love have been passed on to you. Are there people in your life, either dead now or still around, who have given you undeserved gifts of love, of attention, of support? You have another joy; you can now pass these gifts on to others.
Are there times when you see things on the news about food shortages or lack of clean water or violence or people made homeless by natural disaster in other (often far away) places? Does this make you feel grateful, or even a bit guilty because we live comfortably? Instead of guilt, we are given the opportunity to share these gifts of love. That’s what they are there for.
And if you need a little asparagus for your supper tonight, just give me a call.
© Melissa Bane Sevier