The Gardening Gene

I come from a long line of gardeners. In the old country, my German grandparents came from peasant families who farmed outside their village. In the new country, they lived in a two-flat apartment on the north side of Chicago, where my grandmother grew what she could in their small backyard—the garden crammed between the garage and the neighbors’ fence (above, my father and his grandfather barely a corn stalk apart). Eventually, some yearning for the country and more room for planting spurred my grandparents to buy several acres of land 40 miles north of the city in what was then open farmland. There my grandmother planted rows of corn, tomatoes and green beans.

On Sundays aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and great-grandparents would gather together and enjoy fresh tomatoes and corn just picked from the stalk. I can still remember the taste of the corn that grew in that rich Illinois dark soil. And it was here, in her country garden, leaning over to pull carrots from the earth, that my grandmother had a heart attack that killed her at the relatively young age of 68, younger than I am now.

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