Victory Garden

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The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. 

To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.

— Alfred Austin

 

I set out to plant my garden this year as a quest – as some sort of proof that Mother Nature is not out to get us.  I needed to get my hands in the dirt and remember that nature is powerful in its beauty and mighty in its magic.  Also, to try and forget that nature can be cruel, given our current pandemic.

But, planting a garden this year was more complicated than in previous years.  Usually, I just went to Lowe’s and bought some plants.  Easy.  However, with the pandemic upon us, I had so many more considerations: When should I go to the store?  When would there be the least amount of people there?  Should I go in the morning when they have just sanitized?  What about wearing a mask and gloves?

I waited a long time.  The fear was too much, and I was paralyzed with worry.  Finally, I decided to stop spinning and just get to it!  I asked my husband to go with me at 6am when Lowe’s opened.  I had my list and we grabbed up plants with breakneck speed.  No hemming and hawing over what would look good, or what is full or partial sun?  Just grabbed and paid, adorned with our masks and gloves.

I felt so much better after tackling that hurdle that I planted the whole garden and all of the flower pots as soon as we got home.  It was therapeutic to get my fingers into the soil as I lovingly patted down the new plantings.  Yes.  I admit it.  I talk to my plants.  My kids made fun of me as I wished all of my flowers, herbs and vegetables the best on their growth journey.  I also thanked the worms for helping my plants to grow; while the sun kept me warm and the songbirds created background music.

The dirt under my fingernails was like a badge of honor and a tribute to my mom.  I remember Mom planting gardens when I was growing up.  She was also a member of the Garden Club.  She loved the earth and all of the harvests she planted.  As I admired my little garden, I thought about a recent conversation with a friend about people working in their yards more during this pandemic.  She called them victory gardens.

When she said ‘victory garden’, it brought back memories of social studies classes when I first heard the term.  The idea of a victory garden stemmed from pervasive food shortages in Europe during World War I and World War II.  Americans planted gardens and shipped their bounties to European citizens to help.  Their horticultural efforts were also enormously beneficial stateside. “An estimated twenty million World War II Victory Gardens produced nearly forty percent of the nation’s fruits and vegetables” (Smith).

Companies during war time found that victory gardening held several benefits for their employees.  The act of planting communal gardens boosted employees’ morale during a very difficult time in our country’s history.  Coming together for a common goal gave citizens purpose and helped with depression amidst the backdrop of two world wars.

In 1944, manufacturing companies started victory garden programs  to help with absenteeism.  In a newspaper article from February 1944, a reporter wrote,  “One way a company can help make workers happy and more contented, thus reducing absenteeism and turnover, is to encourage victory gardening.  The food will come in handy this year, too.  The answer is that victory gardening pays.  The man who gets comfortably tired at weeding over Sunday won’t get down to work with a hangover on Monday.  The fellow with a thrifty garden underway won’t readily quit his job and leave the crop for someone else.  Closer friendships and associations – not only among employees but their families as well – create a wholesome spirit that makes for better all-around labor conditions” (Heuchling).

Victory gardens did not stop after World War II.  In fact, during the 2008 economic crisis, gardens sprouted up due to the rising rate of unemployment.  People found that growing their own food was not only cost effective, but a good way to get healthy, organic produce for their families.  Some people continue to plant bee gardens – gardens that are specifically designed to increase the honeybee population that is at risk of extinction due to climate change.

There is no doubt that victory gardens have a storied history combining love for the earth and benefit of humankind.  I found a great deal of comfort planting our little garden and an added bonus?  We planted it on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.  Who knew?  The days all blend together in this quarantine, but there must have been some cosmic pull to getting that garden planted on that day.

After Charlotte made the national news as the “#1 location to watch” for a COVID 19 surge, I remain scared, but resolute.  This garden helps me stay productive and positive as it is teaching me mindfulness, patience and hope. 

 

The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. 

– Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

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Citations:

Heuchling, Fred. “‘Gardens That Raise Morale.’” Nation’s Business, Feb. 1944.

Smith, Tracy. “‘Victory Gardens for the War Against COVID 19.’” CBS Sunday Morning,                              CBS, 5 Apr. 2020.

Pandemic Perspectives

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To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; 

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

-“Success” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

My great-grandmother, Lavina Towner Emigh, died on December 13, 1918 during the influenza pandemic that ripped through our country.  My grandmother was 4 years old at the time and used to tell us stories about her. I wish I had listened. The arrogance of my youth whispered nothing like that could happen to me.

Yet, here we are.

In 1918 and 1919, the Spanish influenza killed 550,000 people in the United States and 20 to 40 million worldwide (Montana Historical Society).  When news outlets call the COVID 19 pandemic “unprecedented”, I have to think our ancestors are laughing at our hubris.  There have been pandemics in the world before this one. And, there are unique parallels of the emotions and feelings captured in the archives of survivors’ first-hand accounts of the day.

A Charlotte Ledger article entitled “Charlotte’s Other Big Pandemic” exposed the myth of our current reality as ‘unprecedented’ in a recent article.  Author Tony Mecia introduced us to Lauren Austin and her groundbreaking doctoral thesis, “Afraid to Breathe:  Understanding North Carolina’s Experience of the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic at the State, Local and Individual Levels.”  The thesis features voices sharing eerily recognizable accounts. And, we have the chance to learn some lessons from the past:

The words of Professor William Cain, professor of mathematics and engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill still ring true.  This excerpt was a letter written to his sister in October, 1918:

“I can only infer from your letter that one of you has caught ‘The Flu’, though I wrote you to tell me definitely, for B. Jr. has been in great danger.  I do not like her exposing herself continuously. As I write you, Drs. MacNider and Mauquess both caught it in spite of masks on, Mauquess having a relapse after 10 days from going out when he thought he was well” (Austin 223).

His letter continues with a stern warning:

“If any of you get symptoms, don’t do as I did (work on), but go to bed and stay there.  I did lie down for four hours every evening and took no walks” (Austin 223).

In Wisconsin, circulars were distributed to residents in October 1918 to urge them to stay in bed:

“Every case of influenza should go to bed at once under the care of a physician.  If you get a cold, go to a well-ventilated room. Do not kiss anyone. Patient should stay in bed at least 3 days after fever has disappeared…The great danger is pneumonia.  The patient must not cough or sneeze except when a mask or handkerchief is held before the face. The after-effects of influenza are worse than the disease. Strictly observe the state and city rules and regulations for the control of influenza” (Wausaw Record Herald).

The woman’s committee of the Council of Defense in Wisconsin was asked to help by visiting the sick:

“They were told to warn all members of afflicted households to wash their hands frequently and not to use eating and drinking utensils in common. All dishes should be thoroughly cleaned, all rooms kept clean and well ventilated and handkerchiefs, towels and linens used about the sick boiled or destroyed” (Capital Times).

They also had restrictions similar to our Stay-At-Home orders:

“Also not to spread or contract the disease from their neighbors by unnecessary calls or neighborly visits, nor by allowing children from various households to mingle on the streets or the premises.  The police have been ordered to keep a close lookout for all children found playing on streets or on premises other than at their own homes” (Wausau Record Herald).

The loneliness of Stay-At-Home orders was illustrated an interview with a Montana survivor of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic:

“People would come along, and young men, nineteen, twenty years old…And they’d stop and say hello to us. My mother was very friendly. She loved to see those people. She was kind of lonesome there, you know, just us kids and her. So when anybody passed by, she always stayed with them. And, you know, maybe a week later, they’d say so-and-so died, and they had been past our place. So many people had that flu, and young people, and they died” (Montana Historical Society).

Yet, through despair, survivors remember helping each other.  Edna Register Boone lived through the 1918 pandemic in Alabama:

“I was 10 years old and my family was the only family in the little town that did not contract the flu. Therefore, my parents became automatic nurses. They nursed every family in town. It was my job as a 10 year old to take food to people, to families, all of them stricken. Mama would put a gauze bandage around my face and she kept sterilized fruit jars on the stove at all times. She would fill the jars with soup or whatever there was, and I would take those jars to the home of an afflicted family, knock on the door and leave the food at the door for someone to come pick it up. It was not a pretty picture…No one was able to go shopping. No one was able to cook. They could bake a few potatoes, even if it was in the fireplace. I knew I had to participate. I knew that my family was being protected. I knew I had to do my part” (Alabama Public Health). 

My daughter Colleen is 10 years old and my son is 14. Contrary to Ms. Boone’s experience, they are living pretty well- albeit missing their family and friends.  I cannot imagine having my daughter or son deliver food to the sick at this time. However, we are helping local charities from a safe distance.

Apart from staying at home, most survivors were asked for their advice on how to survive a pandemic, if it ever happened again.  Garfield Johnson of Alabama gave some good advice:

“Well, you know, most folks don’t try to have a garden. I say it’s better to have it and not need it than it is to need it and not have it. Me and Harriet got three deep freezers and we’ve got them partly full. We give to the young ones – share it one thing and another (Alabama Public Health).”

The Saratogian, Saratoga Springs, N. Y. Sat. 14 Dec 1918

Mrs. [Lavina] Starr Emigh, aged thirty-two years, died at her home in Locust Grove [Town of Greenfield, NY] at 12:30 o’clock yesterday [13 Dec] afternoon following a short illness of influenza. She is survived by her husband and 8 small children; Zilpha, Burtis, Vina, Beatrice, Elsie, Lena, Dorothy and Alice; 1 sister, Mrs. Howard Emigh of Milton; 3 brothers, Thomas and Jerome, who are in the United States service; Clarence of Burgoyne; and several nephews and nieces.

Funeral services will be held Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock at the late woman’s residence. The Rev. R. D. Andrews of Greenfield Center will officiate and burial will be at Greenfield Center.

Five of the young woman’s surviving children are also seriously ill with influenza.

 

Special thanks to The Charlotte Ledger, The Saratogian, Lauren Austin, oral histories shared by the Montana Historical Society, Alabama Public Health and the archives of the Capital Times and Wausaw Record Herald of Wisconsin.

 

 

Phone

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Let difficulty transform you. And it will.
In my experience, we just need help
In learning how not to run away.

                                                                     – Pema Chodron

 

 

I teach English at a local community college. Since our courses are now being delivered online, instructors needed to check on their students who have not logged into our courses to offer assistance. I did not anticipate what I encountered on the other end of the phone. These students helped to broaden my perspective and made me realize how much this pandemic has affected our community in different ways. Surprisingly, their stories dovetail with an article I read yesterday about the pandemic spurring feelings related to grief.

In the article, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief”, Scott Berinato explained that what we are actually feeling is loss similar to grief. The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance. Here are some observations of grief based on these conversations with my students:

Anger – anticipatory grief
“Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis….there is a storm coming” (Berinato).

I called student #1. She is an A student, but has not signed on to our class in a few weeks. When she answered the phone, chaos erupted in the background. A demanding voice shouted, “Who is on the phone? Hang up! Hang up!”. My student apologized and said she was closing her door. She explained that her mother is very fearful that this pandemic could cause her family to be deported. They are living in a state of utter fear that ICE agents will be at their door. She wondered if her mother would take any of them to the hospital if one of them became sick. The ragged fear in my student’s voice was palpable. All I wanted to do was give her peace, but I was just another person demanding something of her at the moment. I talked with her a while and just listened. It was cathartic and she thanked me for my time. That’s the least I could give her.

I thought about this student having to manage a very tough situation in her home. Stress can get magnified during times like these. And, if you are a parent, all you are concerned with is the health and welfare of your children. I felt for this mom in the background – scared and unsure – with the added stress of wondering whether or not she will be forced out of her home.

Sadness
I spoke with a single mom whose voice spoke volumes as soon as she answered the phone. Defeated is the best description I can offer. She sounded exhausted and explained she has 3 small children and she’s all alone in the house with them. She apologized and said she was sorry for not being in class. I assured her I would work with her, explained there are resources to help her and then asked her how she was feeling. We commisserated, but I am not so arrogant to think we are dealing with the same situation. I have older children and a husband who is a partner in this fight with me. This woman is all alone. We talked, laughed and she cried a bit. I believe I was one of the first adults she had spoken to in a while. I offered to talk with her again this week. We can lean on each other during this time, I told her. I just hope leaning is enough for this mom.

Denial
One of my younger students answered the phone, “What?!”. After identifying myself, she said “OK”. I told her I was there for her if she needs anything and she said, “I’ll log in today, if I get the chance.” She responded to me as though I was her nagging mother. I get it. I kind of am in this scenario. I assured her that was fine. Quite frankly, at the time I wanted to get off of the phone with her as much as she wanted to dispatch me. However, looking back on the conversation, I need to check myself and my knee-jerk reactions. I have to realize that we all deal with grief and stress in our own ways. I hope this student will allow me to help her complete our course. I will keep an eye on her just as I am doing with my other students.

So, what do we do for help? Berinato offers advice through an interview with an authority on grief, David Kessler.

Kessler says, “There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. So many have told me in the past week, “I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,” or “I cried last night”. When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion…” (Berinato).

“Your work is to feel your sadness, fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then, we’re not victims” (Berinato).

Kessler goes on to explain feeling your feelings in an orderly way:
“Sometimes we try not to feel what we’re feeling because we have this image of a “gang of feelings”. If I feel sad and let it in, it will never go away… The truth is a feeling moves through us. We feel it and it goes and then we go on to the next feeling. There’s no gang out to get us….Let yourself feel the grief and keep going” (Berinato).

It is important we understand that people are living this altered state of self-distancing in very different ways. Reach out with love and compassion. Help as much as you can. We really have no idea what others are facing at this moment. I was lucky enough to be provided with a glimpse.

Special thanks to Jeannette Coggins for this article:

Berinato, Scott. “‘That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.’” Harvard Business Review, Mar. 2020, https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-you’re-feeling-is-grief.

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