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September 26, 2022

Oort Cloud Oddities: Spinach!!

By Alexandra Queen

There's a simple joy in getting people worked up. I used to save phrases like, "I'm thinking about getting a piercing," and "Al Davis is such a great team owner," for lulls when conversation got too peaceful. But these days, if you want to watch someone's eyes get buggy and see them spit all over themselves, all you have to do is ask innocently, "Why are gas prices so high?"

"Spit snarl Iraq slobber Dubya, froth rapacious imperialists foam foam Republicans!" my dad will say.

"Bug-eye Brazil spit Bakersfield sputter Alaska slobber baby seals good for eating, too," my husband will point out.

"Spinach," my mother announced calmly at the family dinner I disrupted the other day. "The price of everything is going to go up, because people are always going to use whatever's going on as an excuse to gouge consumers. So there's nothing to do but conserve where you can. Walk to the grocery store. Grow your own vegetables. Spinach is good; it has lots of vitamins."

"Hmm!" the family agreed. "We could grow zucchini."

"That's a summer crop. Spinach," my mother corrected us.

"Well, don't we have two growing seasons here in the Valley?"

"Has to do with length of daylight. Grow spinach."

"Well what about green beans?"

"I don't know. Grow spinach."

"What else is nutritious?"

"Spinach!"

"It's still legal to have chickens where we're at. Maybe we could get a few&"

"SPINACH!" my mother spit on herself, eyes bugging out.

"All right," my dad mumbled. "We'll take out the lawn and just plant spinach."

"Good idea," my mother said, dabbing daintily at the spit on her chin and shirt with a napkin. "While you all are at it, Alex can help me harvest the grapes."

Outwardly I groaned, but inside I was glad, despite the fact that harvesting grapes was going to be a several hour, bug-infested ordeal. There's something autumny in the air that whispers to me this time of year. A little voice that mutters in the back of my head that it's time to bring in vegetables. I hear there's medication for that, but finding vegetative matter to can or freeze (fruit, vegetables, lawn clippings, it doesn't matter as long as it can accrue a nice coat of dust by January) is a less expensive solution, even if the side effects like loss of libido are about the same.

When I was a kid, that's what we did, all through the summer and autumn. We would head to the huge gardens my grandparents maintained and help them harvest potatoes, peas, corn, tomatoes, strawberries, rhubarb, or whatever was in season at the time. Both sets of grandparents had more garden than they did grass. All through grade school, those gardens supplied us with fresh and preserved vegetables for me to refuse to eat at dinner.

So it was nice to spend the day with Mom, fighting ants for the grapes in the back yard. Mom trained the garden hose on me, blasting the ants swarming over my skin as I alternately plucked armloads of grapes and dove screaming into the pool to get the bugs off. My own daughter helped, screeching and pointing out a catalog of scary bugs to me. "Mom! Look out! Spider! Mom! Look out! Cricket! Mom! Look out! Ant!! Look out! Other ant!! Look out!! Other other ant!! Mom! Look out! Other other other ant&!!"

"We get the point, kid," I might have thanked my preschooler a bit brusquely. Mom just turned the garden hose on Lill until the urge to catalog each of the several hundred ants was rinsed away.

Then we separated the grapes from their stems in preparation for freezing and reminisced about picking wild raspberries every summer, braving thorns, poison ivy, mosquitoes, ticks and other dangers to haul buckets of berries out of the woods.

"I remember the last time I forgot to tuck my pants cuffs into my socks," my mother chuckled, "then stepped on that hive of ground bees. They were all through my pants."

"I remember that, too," I said in mild understatement. I learned half my vocabulary that day. The half I can't use in my writing. "You know, I miss doing this sort of thing. I'm glad you're going to put in a winter garden. Carrots, I think, are a good cool weather&"

"SPINACH!!" my mother shouted, getting buggy-eyed.

Spinach it is.

Comments and suggestions for winter crops that had all better be "spinach" to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.

This article first appeared in the September 4, 2005 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.

Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-09-26
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