A couple of evenings ago I straightened my back, leaned against my hoe handle and surveyed the work I had done.  Two new rows of okra, the ultimate Southern Vegetable, a couple of double rows of field peas and one double row of green beans.  Feeling as satisfied as a dog with two tails, I threw a glance at the pick-up truck traveling down the road and noticed that the headlights were on.  As a matter of fact, the lightning bugs were flash-dancing in bushes and trees that surround my garden.  Still propped up by the hoe, catching my breath, I took in the field where my garden lives year after year.  That field had gone from cotton to corn, to cattle and back to corn in the last 150 years and there had always been one of my family working it. Because of the good-hearted help from my family it would be worked again. There had been some strong doubts about my putting in the garden this year.  What with wild and crazy weather conditions, droughts and my over-loaded schedule,  there didn’t seem to be a good reason to put myself through the physical workout a good garden requires.  After all here it was, already June, well into the year. I would have a few tomatoes, peppers and some onions, a salsa garden and let the rest slide.  After right at 40 years of feeding myself and others, I would back off and pay no mind to the rainfall amounts, grasshoppers, and a deep freezer with an echo inside.  It was too late.

Only a week before I had asked a young cousin to clear out my old Winter garden, do away with the ratty kale, old wooden knobs of turnips, mustard greens that would light up your mouth like a blow torch.  Here it was, first of June and I had fine patch of red clay, suitable for brick-making and laying empty under the Sun.  Around and about volunteer zinnias, poppies and watermelons had sprouted and were making the best of it, unloved and uncared for.  The tomatoes and peppers were standing bravely by their supports ready and willing to get down to business if I would only show some interest.  I moped about, kicking a clod or two, trying to ignore  feelings that were not at all common to me;  guilt and remorse.  Guilt that I had let this splendid stretch of soil sit neglected, remorse that I had not only turned down the generous offer of having it tilled but had stared into the face of the Future and said, “Ha!  If I don’t have bread I’ll just eat cake!”   Just paraphrasing a famous lady who understandably came to a very sorry end.  It was too late.

Friday morning as I readied myself for a trip into town, a doctor’s appointment, I heard in the background a sound I knew well.  The sound of a roto-tiller tearing up the ground in some industrious soul’s vegetable patch.  This was not surprising, I live surrounded by family who have the good sense to get out in the Spring and put their well-thought out plans into action, laying out rows to plant seeds of corn, beans, squash and cucumber and settle tiny tomato and pepper plants into the receptive soil.  They all had fine stands of early planted food stuffs, flourishing under the watchful eyes of their caretakers, moving closer to the anticipated days of gathering and preserving for the year ahead.  I felt very much like the fiddling grasshopper laughing at the toil of the ants. Really?  I felt envy.   It was too late.

Locking the front door I spied movement beyond the trees lining my driveway, moving closer I could see a wide strip of plowed earth.  In my garden!   Somebody was tilling my garden!  Oh, my word!  Running across the distance that separates the house and garden site, I could make out my big cousin, Mike, working steadily down the length of a row, handling that tiller like he was walking a dog.  It only took a second to see that he had been at for most of the morning.  This was not Mike’s first rodeo, he’s wrangled tillers before, he’s tilled my place nearly every single year, simply out of the goodness of his heart.  As for my heart, it nearly exploded with joy and gratitude, I had turned him down once and yet he must have realized that empty ground was wearing at my gardener’s soul.  I grabbed him, hugged the breath out of him and asked, ” Why!?”  He shrugged, shook his head and replied, ” Well, I just figured you’d be wanting it.”   I could have cried, so happy for this gift of time and effort, but no way was I going to embarrass him and possibly cause him to stop.  After I explained that I was on a time sensitive errand and couldn’t stay to help,  I shot off to town, did my stuff and was back by lunch time.  By dinner time I had laid out raised beds and marked my rows for planting.  By night fall the next day I had as good a garden as I could have wished for, courtesy of one exceptional cousin, who decided to go ahead and till up that garden anyway. I have the kind of family who doesn’t have to be asked, they see a need and undertake to fill it. As they say Blood will tell, blood is thicker than red clay. And of course, it never really is too late, a Southern garden late is so much better than no garden at all.