My father, as regular blog readers now know, is both the Master Packer and the Mechanical One in our family. He can fit five pair of shoes, twelve sweaters, a crystal vase, nine books, seventeen lemons, and a stuffed monkey into a duffle bag. He can repair anything, fix anything, and build anything with less to work with than MacGuyver.
These skills, however, do not translate to gardening.
One summer, when I was going into seventh grade and we lived in a little house on Tokay Avenue in a sunny little town in California where gardens thrived with very little effort, my father decided that we too needed a garden.
This was not true.
My grandparents lived within walking distance in the same mint green house surrounded by a lush yard where you could choose to have fresh lemons, oranges, tomatoes, grapes, berries, plums, apricots, peaches, pomegranates, tangerines, almonds...you get the picture.
There was no need for a garden of our own but my father, the Enthusiastic Gardener, was determined.
Because the Enthusiastic Gardener is also the Lover of All Vegetables, whether they rightly deserve affection or not (he is one of five people on planet Earth who love Brussel Sprouts, Beets and Lima Beans), our garden was slated for vegetables.
Two zuchinni plants and five tomato plants, to be precise. Why one family needed five types of tomatoes is still under debate.
One of the Enthusiastic Gardener's best qualities is his determination that if he is going to do something, he will jolly well do it right. In this case, that meant that he carefully calculated the angle of the sun and chose the optimum planting spot (just across from the back door which, in the end, was not the wisest choice), set up a watering schedule, and purchased the best plant food on the market.
One of the Enthusiastic Gardener's most interesting qualities is his belief that the directions to any given product are open to interpretation. Applied to mechanically-oriented projects, this is usually a successful approach for him. Applied to plant food, this is disastrous.
The bag of food specifically stated that each plant was to receive a very small amount of the food, say one tablespoon. The Enthusiastic Gardener studied the small granules of plant food and decided that the manufacturers were seriously over-estimating their product's effectiveness.
He doubled the amount.
Days later, we had a veritable jungle of zucchini and tomato plants growing against our back fence, just two feet from the back door. The Enthusiastic Gardener was elated and proud. He'd done it. He'd created a vegetable garden he could be proud of.
One morning, a couple weeks after the plants first appeared, disaster struck.
We couldn't open the back door.
Large, leafy zucchini plants had surged across the sidewalk in the dead of night and pressed greedy, prickly leaves and stalks against the door. Zucchini were everywhere. Everywhere.
The tomatos were nearly as bad, chugging up the fence at a lightning pace, bursting with five types of tomatos, all of them nearly ripe enough to eat.
The Enthusiastic Gardener considered the problem. He studied the angles. He felt the thickness of the plants. He picked any zucchini blooming next to the back door and then he viciously cleared the sidewalk of any shred of greenery.
With his lawnmower.
It may be the first time in gardening history that zucchini plants were pruned with a lawnmower.
Our troubles were far from over. The plants refused to stop producing vegetables. They refused to stop hugging the back door. The tomatos kept making a break for it over the fence and into the alley behind our house. The lawnmower blade was wearing thin.
We harvested vegetables every few days; huge brown grocery sacks full of vegetables. We carted them throughout our street, shoving them at hapless neighbors too slow to get inside and lock up their children when they saw us coming. We packed bags into our car when we went to church and pounced on anyone with the misfortune to park near us.
But worse, worse, were the meals we ourselves ate. We've always been a family who ate vegetables with every dinner but now we were a family who ate vegetables in ways nature never intended. Despite the bags we gave away, we were stuck with piles of zucchini and tomatoes. My mother had to do something because, as I've mentioned before, she comes from strong Swedish stock and we don't waste anything.
She made zucchini lasagne. Not my favorite but doable. Sundried tomatoes. I can handle those. Salads, soups, pastas. All doable. But then, she made the now infamous zucchini pancakes.
If you are busy thinking that you love zucchini bread so pancakes must not be too bad, take a moment to slap yourself.
These were nothing like zucchini bread, which I also love. (and which, in retrospect, would have been an excellent use of the extra zucchini. Nobody runs from you when you are trying to give them zucchini bread.) These were made from regular pancake batter with the unwelcome addition of shredded zucchini. Shredded, still slightly crunchy zucchini and pancake batter do not go together. Ever.
Even my father, who will eat just about anything, didn't like them.
My father still gardens (although it was years before any of us could stand the thought of eating zucchini) but now he recognizes that while he is the Master Packer and the Mechanical One, when it comes to gardening, he is as fallible as the rest of us.
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