The Suburban Home Companion

I grew up in a middle class neighborhood of colonial and Cape Cod-style houses, riding the bus to school and my Huffy bicycle in the summer. Without a helmet. It was the eighties in suburbia.

Four months ago I began a new morning walk ritual, heading out at 7:00 a.m. for a loop around the familiar web of cul-de-sacs.

My eyes started to open up to a place I’ve known my whole life and yet had never taken the time to notice.

One morning as I crossed the street to turn down our block, I passed a neglected corner of someone’s yard and in the mass of overgrowth were branches bursting with berries. A step closer revealed them to be wild blackberries, or black caps as they’re called around here.

I looked to my left and right down the street and then tiptoed, okay trespassed, four feet onto the property.

I walked home with a handful, and rinsed and stirred them into my oatmeal turning it a red hue. They were tender, seedy and mildly sweet. While eating breakfast, I felt the thrill of discovery…and of not getting caught.

On my next walk I brought a bag. After looking around again, and then up at the windows only a couple yards away, I went to work.

Thanks to my hopefully-oblivious neighbors, I picked nearly two pounds of thIMG_8410e dark purple lovelies and an hour later into a pot they went along with lemon zest and sugar.

The results are impressive if I do say so myself. And I do say so nearly every time I take the small jar out of the fridge. My first-ever jam!

Some of it has appeared in a peanut butter sandwich, but you and I can be real. It’s too good not to immediately savor my success by the spoonful.

While this was happening in the kitchen, my dad decided to dig up the lawn.

Yes friends, our 3/4 acre yard has now become a community garden.

Word spread quickly. How could you not notice?

One afternoon while he was out planting, our next-door neighbor yelled over to him that we should open a farm stand. Without missing a beat, Dad replied, “Good idea. I’ll make the lemonade.”

Then came a phone call from another neighbor who had been given rhubarb plants at church, did we have room for them? Fifteen minutes later I met her outside with a shovel.

More than half of the garden is being planted by a family friend who was once a farmer in Jamaica before moving to the U.S. He’s been so kind to us through the years that my dad offered to give him our land since he doesn’t have any of his own. In the process, it has become a great excuse for Dad to return to his gardening roots, too. When a mysterious bag of green leaves and stalks appeared on the kitchen counter the other day, Google informed me that we are growing callaloo.

We also have several varieties of leaf and head lettuce along with two types of kale, collard greens, tiny spinach and an array of herbs — basil, dill, cilantro, parsley, marjoram, and lemon thyme. The squash and tomato plants are just kicking into gear.

I’ve given some vegetables away, and make time daily to survey what new little growth has popped out of the ground. Yesterday I walked outside at noon, and by 1:00 p.m. was eating a salad composed entirely of what I found. I went back at 7:00 p.m. to gather ingredients for a smoothie in the morning.

I guess this was kind of meant to happen. You see, I have always held a place in my heart for houseplants, greeting new leaves on my umbrella tree, Adelaide, with a happy hello. In college I decorated our dorm-room ficus with garland at Christmas. Because everyone buckles a small tree into the passenger seat next to them on their drive to school, right? His name was Herbie the Love Fig.

Now I’IMG_8465m learning to love garden-variety plants. When the first bulbs of kohlrabi formed at the bottom of the four plants my dad bought on a whim not sure what they were, I could not contain my delight.

And baby eggplants! I mean come on, aren’t these the cutest???

In the ol’ neighborhood, kids still ride by on their bikes without helmets. Someone’s dog runs at full speed through our yard once a day. Time is slower. I didn’t imagine what would happen when I slowed down with it.

Join us for more tales from Lake Wobegon, or rather Barkley Road.

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