My garden: part I
One of my favorite childhood memories is of sweet tea and mint leaves. If you have ever lived in or visited the South, you understand full well the pleasures of a glass of cold sweet tea and the intense therapeutic elements of its grand sugary goodness....but I digress. One of my favorite childhood memories is of sweet tea and mint leaves because my Nana used to make the BEST sweet tea. She would mix the sugar in with a big wooden spoon when the freshly brewed tea was still warm in an opaque, rectangular shaped plastic pitcher and leave it in the fridge to cool. As 1, 7 and 8 year old kids, she would rarely let us have any, saying that it would stunt our growth. So we'd have to sneak a cup when she wasn't looking, drink it quickly and savor the flavor just enough to make us go back for more the next time an opportunity presented itself. I never grew taller than 5'9 so I guess Karma sorta stuck it to me for being sneaky behind my grandmother's back. One day I watched my grandfather walk out to the backyard, kneel to the ground and pluck what looked to me like green weeds growing on the side of the house. He took these weeds inside, washed them off and dropped them right into the pitcher of still-warm tea and began to stir before sticking the concoction into the ice box (that's what he used to call it). I was horrified and mystified at the same time. The idea of taking some plant from the outside world and putting it in tea was highly unusual in my eight year old mind and almost made me stop plotting ways to get to my Nana's sweet tea right at that moment. But I had to find out why:
"Grandpa, what's that plant?"
"Ohhhhhhh. But why do you put it in the tea?"
"It gives the tea more flavor, try it..."
"But Nana said we can't have any..." (as if I'd never had it before, I was so "innocent")
"Try it BOY!"
It was as if my grandfather had discovered a whole new planet in some distant cosmos! The flavor of mint combined with tea and sugar caused my young palate to go into convulsions and gave me the realization that we could actually eat stuff that grew in the backyard! WOW! Later that week my mom was making dinner and had a pot of tea brewing and I just KNEW that I was gonna impress her with my new found discovery. As she poured the tea into a plastic jug, I ran outside to find the mint leaves that we had growing on the side of our house- just like grandpa did. As she poured the sugar in, I took my mint leaves to the sink and washed them off-just like grandpa did. Here was the moment of truth. Slowly, I walked towards the awaiting pitchers sitting on the counter and raised the leaves above, preparing to drop them into the amber brown liquid. Then I hear:
"What are you doing?"
"I'm putting mint into the tea, Momma"
"I saw grandpa put mint into Nana's tea. It makes it taste GOOD!"
"Take that stuff outside! Don't you know the cats from next door come over here and piss on the side of the house!!!! Ain't no tellin' what the animals around here do!"
In all my excitement, I didn't take that small but important factor into account. See, our crazy next door neighbor kept cats, A LOT of cats- too many to count. I think he may have had a Hemmingway complex or something because all the cats just ran in and out of the house, ate straight out of openned Fancy Feast cans and shit right in his living room. We weren't hard core animal lovers at my house and just to give you an idea, we had two turtles that ran away from home never to be seen again- TURTLES, no lie. In hindsight, we should have called Animal Control on him, it was THAT bad. Regardless, the image of a cat pissing on fresh green herbs and vegetables in the backyard was burned into my psyche and haunts me to this very day. Twenty two years on, and I have yet to pick fresh mint (or anything else) from ANY yard for consumption. I mean, how can you put something in your mouth that an animal has marked as it's territory, with PISS of all things. Call it ureaphobia or apprehension due to revulsion and childhood mental trauma. Strangely enough though, I believe that day is ending......Stay tuned.