My five-year-old granddaughter Matea came to visit my husband and me for a couple days. She is inquisitive and bright, and I must say beautiful. She helped me cook, set the table, and look over and pick vegetables in the garden.
I have to admit, I’m not an expert nor the best gardener. For years, I felt guilty because of my weeds. Each summer, I try to be diligent about cleaning up the garden once a week or so. Then I get bored or busy and forget it. This year, when she came, we went out to look at everything, but soon she said, “Grandma, this is a jungle,” because vegetation and weeds had grown tall and strong, and sometimes intertwined.
So when she and I started picking the beans and tomatoes, we were astonished with our first harvest. I must explain: my husband and I don’t grow the typical bush bean. His mother grew pole beans, and we followed suit especially after visiting his relatives in Slovenia who sent us home with a bag full of their pole bean seeds. Since then, our garden is full of green plastic poles and tomato cages, all lush with delicious green and red vegetables. This summer was no exception.
After emptying our bowls in the kitchen from the first round of picking, we returned to the garden to search for more. We weren’t disappointed. We picked another bowl of tomatoes, large for BLTs, canning, or freezing, and small for salads or pop-in-your-mouth treats. I thought our harvest was plenty until I lifted one large bean leaf. Hiding underneath, the long, green beans hung in handfuls. We realized we had to get a larger container to gather our bounty. Matea is short enough to get to the bottom of the poles and excitedly found so many that it turned into a competition of who found more. I let her win.
Later, on my ride home after I returned her to her parents (God knows there’s no time to think of anything but having fun with this little girl or just keeping up with her vitality and stamina), I excitedly thought of returning to my writing. I thought about how I hone my craft. Sometime, I stare at the obvious, like the beans I can see on each plant. But many times I search for more depth to add to my stories by researching at home or in libraries. I’ve learned that wherever I look, on the Internet or in old newspapers on microfilm, the stories and facts are ripe for the picking.
For instance, when I wrote Scruples & Drams, I read in the Clearwater News that Thomas Porter, one of the early settlers in the Clearwater, found a bag of tools hiding in his hay pile. I couldn’t have made that up because it would sound hokey. Yet, like I said in the introduction of my book, it really happened, and this little article in the “Local” column fit in well with my story about the town burglaries that took place during the summer of 1895.
Another example is how I dealt with the murder of the Irish girl in Lynden Township, Minnesota, in 1893. I went to the local history museum and found the girl’s name in their files. I also found article after article dated May to September of 1893 about the rape and murder of the sixteen year old. Then I traced her family and some of the people she was associated with as well as people mentioned in the article on census records and through Ancestry and newspapers.com. I realized that two important suspects escaped, one to Canada, another to Washington. The case was eventually dropped and forgotten about. My mom, who died in 2009, was still alive at the time and had a couple visitors who were descendants of the girl’s aunt who had lived in the vicinity at the time of the murder. Apparently, their mother often talked about ghostly encounters others in the area of Lynden Township had had and how many heard a child’s cry down by the Tamarack Swamp where she was murdered. Of course, again, I couldn’t have made up that bit of information, and for me, it added another layer to my story.
I’ve learned that my garden grows whether I weed or not. I know all the facts about how weeds steal nutrients but, you know, it isn’t my thing even if I love the produce. I’d rather be inside the house writing, away from the mosquitoes and humidity. This year my husband built a higher and somewhat darker fence around it, to keep out deer and rabbits he said. But I say the fence hides the weeds and keeps me from fretting over my slovenly gardening techniques.
Interesting that I take the opposite approach when I am writing. I work hard, sometimes using the delete or backspace keys to erase piles of weeds that bog me down in my “jungle,” making me start all over again. And because I want some form of historic accuracy in my novels, I dig deep to find it so I can bring believability and depth to my writing. It’s amazing the harvest I find when I search for what’s hiding under the vine.