By Terri Reinhart
Copyright © 2008
I had a disturbing wake-up call today. I went out to do my gardening. I was determined to get the potatoes planted earlier this year to take as much advantage of our growing season as possible. Over the last two years, gardening has been a wonderful therapy for me. I would go out and pick weeds for an hour or more. Granted, if I did heavier work, like shoveling, raking, cutting up the old branches with the saw and bundling them up, or something like that, I knew that I would be worthless later in the day. But, I figured, I could either do the work and feel useless later in the day or not do the work and feel useless all day. I wasn’t going to stop.
I’m still not going to stop gardening, however, it was disturbing to find that I could only turn over about five shovelfuls of soil before having to sit down and rest. After a few minutes, I forced myself to continue on with the work, leaning on my shovel as I walked over to the potatoes. I finished my work between rest stops and, though it took much more time and effort than it ever had before, I was still pleased that I could do it myself. I’m not so useless after all.
It did make me think of the future, though, something I try not to do too much. If gardening is this much harder today, what will it be like next spring? Damn.
At least I can swear about it now!
Through no fault of my own, I didn’t learn how to swear until much later in life. It’s not that I have anything against swearing, it was just not something I was exposed to while I was growing up and when I was, it was like being exposed to a foreign language. I just didn’t get it.
I am sure that at some point my parents knew how to swear. My father was in the Navy during WWII on a small ship in the North Pacific. Swearing certainly must have been a requirement. My mother grew up on a farm. The youngest of ten children, she had five older brothers. What would the chances be of her NOT hearing the more colorful words in our language? But regardless of this, I don’t think I ever heard a swear word uttered in our house. I certainly didn’t learn to swear at St. Anthony’s Catholic school, where I spent my first five years of elementary school.
This can be a bit of a handicap if you find yourself in a sticky situation. Granted, if you are around small children, corporate business associates, clergy (including Catholic school nuns), your grandmother, or anyone else who might be mortally offended by the slightest off color language, you would be prudent to stick with gosh darn golly gee whiz fiddlesticks, and such. But I am alone in my garden, leaning on my shovel, not a young child in sight. Considering how young we were when we married and started our family, and that I worked in early childhood education for most of my adult life, this is the first time I’ve actually had the freedom to not worry about what I say. And I can tell you, gosh darn golly gee whiz fiddlesticks just doesn’t cut it when I allow myself to look too far into my future.
I let loose with a string of obscenities that would have made my male friends proud.
It is interesting to note that, while being an early childhood education teacher prevented me from using certain language, it’s not as if I didn’t hear it. I think I even learned a few new words from the children. Most of them are very innocent, however, and when a young child came to me on the play yard and tattled that another child had said the “F” word to him, I was suddenly wary. I turned to the child and said, “Which F word did he say?” The child looked at me cautiously and whispered in his quietest voice, “He said shut up.” Mr. Baker, who teaches woodwork to the grade school children, lets the students know that he doesn’t tolerate foul language. And the foulest words, in his opinion, are the words, “I can’t”.
Back in the garden, it was strangely uplifting to be able to get angry and yell, not worrying what I said or who might hear me. The earthworms didn’t seem to mind at all and our rabbits didn’t even blush. One of the foxes turned and looked at me suspiciously but I’m used to that. He does it all the time whether I am swearing or singing. Come to think of it, he really looks at me suspiciously when I sing. I’m not that bad, am I?
I don’t know how things will be for me in a year. The only certainty is that it won’t become easier with time. But I still plan to garden. I’m not going to PLAN on what I will NOT be able to do. It’s inevitable that I will look into the future from time to time. It’s not the wisest thing to do but I know that it’s only natural. At those times, I will need to arm myself with all my life coping skills. Swearing is required.
The only foul words I don’t want to ever use are, “I can’t.”
Terri Reinhart is a Denver, Colorado writer. This essay is from her book “I Meant To Do That” and Other Life Coping Skills.