My dear friend Ashley has called me back from my summer vacation from infertility. While it’s been a nice respite, I have certainly not been wanting for thoughts on the subject.
Half my life ago, I was starting my academic career in Latin American studies in the Big Apple. Completely unaware that anyone ever had trouble having babies, I thought of fertility as a concept associated with agriculture and anthropology. I learned about the Aztec gods of the earth, rain, and corn. Although they seemed to always have plenty of people, I thought agrarian pre-Columbians were generally more concerned about the food supply. I know that in contemporary Mexico City people leave shots of tequila for Tlaloc, the god of rain, at his statue at the National Museum of Anthropology. No rain, no crops. (Apparently the tequila works frequently enough that people keep doing it).
We know that tequila can facilitate human conception in a lot of instances, but it never worked for us. So when all else fails in the baby-making business, one can always tackle the fertility thing by planting a garden. Even without any alcohol. That’s what James did this summer.
Gardening is a focus that the father characters in “The Fantasticks” musical strongly endorse over parenting. According to those two, each struggling with difficult teenagers, vegetables are dependable and fulfilling. They say, for example,
Plant a turnip.
Get a turnip.
Maybe you’ll get two.
That’s why I love vegetables;
You know that they’ll come through!
That’s in stark contrast to “children, [with whom] it’s bewilderin’.” So following the dads’ philosophy, this garden business should make James ecstatic. “A man who plants a garden is a very happy man.”
But it’s not so easy. When is fertility easy?
James planted his vegetable garden in June. Last year when he used that schedule, we got vegetables in July. This year we had to wait until August. And even then, they were slow and really not that promising.
The one golden boy of the garden was a huge tomato that hung out, green, on the vine for a long, long time. We would go out and admire it and wonder if it would ever turn red. Finally, its apple green took on a sunny twinge. It morphed to orange, and promised to be red any day.
In the meantime, the garden was providing James the only solace he had in his life. He worked hard at the office and brought his stress home all the time, but he loved the potential and promise of his garden. I’d find him in the back yard in the evenings, briefcase in one hand and water hose in the other, before he ever came in the house. The tomato was his baby, and he was just waiting to see it reach maturity.
One night, after a particularly hard day, James seemed beaten down. It wasn’t until we’d watched our share of SciFi channel shows on TV that James finally admitted what straw had broken his back.
“They got Big Red.”
It was the most unforgiveable, un-get-overable tragedy there could ever be.
Who “they” was was a mystery. It could be the chipmunk that James had “had his eye on,” or birds, or bunnies, or bugs, or squirrels. It didn’t matter. They’d taken it. Big Red the Tomato lived its last few hours, finally at the perfect shade of tomato red, on the ground in the garden, with its belly splayed open and half its mass missing. Ants trailed onto and throughout its remaining body. So sad.
In the month since that first tomato’s demise, we’ve taken prophylactic measures. We put up a big wire fence that keeps out not only the bunnies and maybe chipmunks, but also anyone who might want to weed the garden. When that proved insufficient (we’d forgotten about bugs), James bought an organic, non-toxic bug repellent. When that proved insufficient (we’d forgotten about birds), we draped a net over the top of the fence. When that proved insufficient (we’d forgotten about those squirrels), we secured that net every 12 inches with clothes pins. That seemed to work. The garden started to bear fruit.
We also learned a few tricks. Get the tomatoes out as soon as they turn orange. Vine ripening is a luxury we don’t have. Get the eggplants before they touch the ground. Get the green peppers before... well, don’t worry about the green peppers because we’re the only ones who seem to like them.
In the end, mid-August, you know what we had? We had vegetable babies. And we ate them.
Two nights ago I made a kind-of eggplant parmesan with three of our eggplants and one green pepper. That went hand-in-hand with lentil and rice salad, which also featured our basil and another green pepper. The tomatoes were so good that we ate them whole, with our hands, like donuts.
The meal tasted good, like victory. It was a feast the gods would have loved.
Next stop, we hope: growing a family.
We won’t eat the babies. We swear.