I used to be a country girl, I thought to myself this morning as I stood looking over the fruits and vegetables at Jenny’s Market. There was a time when I wouldn’t have had to stop in the middle of making summer pasta to go buy a vegetable I’d forgotten during the previous trip.
Jenny’s has become one of my favorite things about moving to western Howard County, Maryland a few years ago to get away from the congestion of the suburbs closer to Washington, where we lived for fourteen years.
The market is a family affair, and each summer I go there to buy vegetables—spring lettuce, green onions, baby potatoes, green beans, and tomatoes. The family posts handmade signs on the main route leading north from the suburbs to their market, spacing them a few hundred feet apart and entertaining drivers during the evening rush hour: Your wife said…to stop at Jenny’s…and pick up some…juicy strawberries…sweet corn…and fresh green beans.
Each time I shop at Jenny’s, I miss my parents. My father, when he was alive and I was still living in West Virginia, supplied me with vegetables from his garden each spring. And my mother, who is now in a nursing home, canned those vegetables each fall, making a sloppy mess of her kitchen but proudly giving me jars of corn and tomatoes every harvest time.
A little sad, I picked up vegetables my dad loved to grow and handed them to the teenager behind Jenny’s table, along with my earth-friendly recyclable bag. As she calculated and bagged the produce, I cheered myself up by walking to the other side of the market to watch the youngest child walk underneath the table, chattering happily to himself.
As I got to the end of the table, I laughed at myself for being so nostalgic. The last display at the end of the table held a basket of mangoes, clearly not grown locally by the family. They, too, have modernized their business, buying and selling produce that isn’t available in the area.
And I realized that the basil I bought there and planted in pots on my deck was not something my parents ever grew or served at their table. In fact, the herb that is a staple in my kitchen never even made an appearance on my mother’s spice rack or in her cart at the grocery store.
I shook myself out of the past and drove home to finish the summer pasta. As I pulled into the driveway, I smiled at the flowerbed I planted last month, now lush and colorful from the summer rainstorms. The last time my mom visited, she had told me how much more beautiful my flowers were than any she had planted. And she frequently told me that I was a better cook.
But today I needed to remind myself that I’m still a bit of a country girl. I needed to feel the earth in my hands, so I decided to repot a peace lily that wasn’t doing well. I found a bigger pot and got out the potting soil. Holding the base of the plant in my hand, I turned the pot upside down, expecting the soil to come out in the shape of the pot as it usually does when I replant.
To my surprise, only the soil in the middle dislodged, and when I set the pot down and looked at the plant in my hand, the roots were bound in the shape of the original flat and had never spread to the rest of the soil in the pot. I realized that when I first planted it, I must have forgotten to shake those roots loose a bit so that they would adjust themselves to the size of the new pot.
In all the times this country girl has planted, I have never had this happen to a plant. And I understood in that moment that people are like plants. It isn’t healthy to stay root-bound in space and time. To thrive, we have to allow those roots to grow and change—and sometimes to be replanted in a new place.
Had I stayed rooted in my parents’ garden, I would never have tasted basil or gone away to college or become a teacher or had a family of my own. But they planted the seeds and tended the saplings that grew into each of those parts of me.
And part of me will always be a country girl, wherever I put down roots.
So tell me, where do your roots grow?