For Every Gardener There is a Season

By Susan DeBow

For Every Gardener There is a Season

It is a good day to write about tomatoes.

I’m not talking the tomatoes in the store that have gotten better through the years. No, I’m talking about the home-grown kind, the ones my husband has planted every year we have lived in a house.

Nick grew up in Cleveland. He attended public school. On our trips to Cleveland, when visiting his mom, he would make a point of driving past his old grade school, Benjamin Franklin. In a large lot next to the school, behind a chain link fence, the school had gardens. Each grade had its own plot. In the summer, kids would walk or ride their bikes to the school and tend the gardens and take produce home. The last time we drove by the school, a few years ago, the gardens were still there.

Nick’s grandmother, a curmudgeonly old German, who was, shall we say, brusque, gardened. She lived with Nick and his mother and two older brothers in a house on Treadway on the near west side of Cleveland. Her husband had died many, many years earlier from TB. We used to have the trunk that was used to ship his possessions to Colorado where he went for treatment and died.

Nick’s mother was a widow, having lost her husband, Nick’s dad, when Nick was five. He was a Cleveland fireman before he passed away.

Old Baum, that’s what they called the grandmother, planted flowers and some vegetables in the small backyard. She also used to take Nick down to the West Side Market on the bus where they would go to the poultry store and buy live chickens. Nick remembers them squawking on the bus ride home.

Old Baum liked little Nick. She didn’t chase his friends away with a broom, like I heard she did his brothers’. The summer we lived in Cleveland at Nick’s mother’s house, I would take Old Baum’s lunch to her upstairs every day. She was old and couldn’t manage the stairs anymore. She blasted The Lawrence Welk Show.

It was a long summer. We were still in college. We had married the summer before and lived in a trailer in Athens during the school year. In the summer, we went to Cleveland so Nick could work for Sohio, loading tires on trucks, a good paying job.

We didn’t know we were poor. We just didn’t have any money.

At our first house on Smith Road, in Norwood, which shook when firetrucks raced by, Nick turned the goldfish pond into his vegetable garden. I was pregnant with our second child. I still can see our oldest son, Ben, who was a year and a half, pulling his little red wagon back to the garden.

After a year and a half we sold the house on Smith Road, which he had bought for $20,500, for $34,000. Merle Pointer, a realtor who went to the NPC, Norwood Presbyterian Church, sold our house. We had no clue you could make money selling something that was used.

We took our profit and used it as a down-payment for a new house in Mason. My mother almost went into apoplexy when we told her we were moving to Mason. It was as if we told her we were moving to Michigan.

Nick built his wooden frames for his above ground gardens. Tomatoes were the constant. They were our candy.

It wasn’t long before we filled that house with kids and needed to move on. Our next house was in Landen.

In the over 28 years we have lived in this house, Nick has had different gardens. He began with above ground beds on the side of the house. Eventually, the garden was moved to the back of the yard, along the park. Each year it got bigger and bigger. It ended up being about 120 feet by 25 feet.

Nick planted 40 tomato plants and lots of vegetables and flowers. People walking in the park often stopped and said it was the nicest garden they had ever seen. His sunflowers reached beyond the sky. When we had overflows of tomatoes, we would give them away. One year I put them in my red wagon and delivered them to neighbors. People loved when the first zucchini came in, but soon hide as the caveman-sized clubs of zucchini proliferated as summer went on. We enjoyed sitting on our back deck eating the bounty of the garden. On hot summer days, days when I couldn’t go outside because I would melt, Farmer Nick could be found, Amish straw hat on head, out weeding his garden.

Our daughter, Andrea, watched her dad for years and has become quite the Farmer Girl, herself. We’d have jars of canned tomatoes, pickled beets and green beans. I’d make fresh spaghetti sauce.

The first tomatoes of the season were a cause for celebration. In winter, we would think of those and long for those summer days when the miracle of the tiny seed would be played out over and over.

Some years were better than others for the garden, for the tomatoes. There were summers with little rain, too much rain, hot temperatures and cooler temperatures. Nick gardened through them all. He gardened through stage three colon cancer.

When we were told Nick had Parkinson’s disease a few years ago, we did what we have always done…carry on.

Nick planted his garden. The tomatoes were, as always, delicious, but…

Last fall, Nick took the garden down as usual and tilled the ground. That was part of the fall cleanup, getting ready for winter.

But last fall, he Nick did something he hadn’t done before. He planted grass seed. He watered it and took care of it as he had his garden. I watched the grass grow in. I asked Nick if he was tired of gardening. No. He told me he wasn’t sure if he’d have the strength to do it this year.

Even as I write this, months after the grass seed was planted, my eyes moisten. It isn’t the tomatoes, which we can find at farmers markets. It’s not the sunflowers that brought joy to little children who were mesmerized by the giant flowers.

What I’m feeling is the passage of time. A palpable acknowledgement that though we can hold on to our memories, God willing, we can’t hold on to time. Time is elusive, yet very real. It is marked by birthdays and anniversaries and golden watches. And for us, the last garden.

About this writer

  • Susan Hipkins DeBow Susan Hipkins DeBow is a writer and artist. A hobby of hers is watching Law and Order reruns and then going around telling people she wants to make a “collar on the perps,” and demands a “remand.” She got hooked on Law and Order reruns after seeing Seinfeld reruns 20 times. You can read Susan’s work and see her art, photography and miscellaneous miscellany at If you are nice, she’d like to be your friend on facebook. Go to her Facebook page, Ohio Writer Girl.

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One Response to “For Every Gardener There is a Season”

  1. I can so relate to this story, as my husband is the master of his tomato garden, also. He is generous. He plants enough for the critters and neighbors. Made me shed a tear.

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