Part 1: Tomatoes on the Roof
"Helmut, the euro's falling apart because your pols built it so badly. Kinda like this row house, which we've been repairing for 22 years." Pint-size Mary Lou gazed down at her husband, lolling in bed like a woolly bison. "Now I'm going to grow tomatoes on our roof, and I don't care what the neighbors say. Eurogeddon's almost here."
"You get so carried away," he chided from the wallow of computer magazines. "Everything in Germany will be fine."
"That's what your politicians say. They still don't know the Club Med countries cooked their books in order to join the Euro?"
"You worry too much about money." He flipped a page.
"Maybe. We're supposed to retire in 7 years, and I want to feel prepared." Holding up the first of four plastic buckets, Mary Lou climbed out the bedroom window, onto the gravel of the flat roof.
Mowing his vast lawn behind the row houses, old Herr Pinzer flicked off his machine. She waved down at him, and he called out:
"Frau Steinegger, is that a tomato?"
"Yes, I drilled holes in the bucket for drainage. I've raised dozens of seedlings already."
"And now you're putting them on your roof?"
"Well, I ran out of space on the patio."
"You know it's much too windy up there."
"I thought I'd give them a chance, Herr Pinzer." She set down the bucket as if planting a flag. Using gardening wire, she fastened the seedling firmly to a wooden shishkebob skewer, and the plant started flapping its puny leaves, as if trying to flee. Her neighbor, tut-tutting, went back to cutting his flawless lawn with the care of a jeweler polishing a diamond.
Mary Lou gazed up at the sky (thickly overcast, as usual in Northern Germany) and down at the narrow gardens that fringed the row of neat, white houses. Some of the neighbors couldn't miss her tomatoes. Could you see them from the street beyond Herr Pinzer's house? Poor Helmut -- embarrassed again by his American wife.
Their patio already bulged with 20 potted tomato plants. Prepping for the coming collapse, Mary Lou blamed the grandiose pols who'd dreamed up the euro without bothering to build a common economy first. They'd already ruined laggards like Greece.
How could they ever believe that, by using common banknotes, their disparate nations would magically converge into one United States of Europe? Indeed, the "Club Med" countries of the south had used the years of easy money to raise their own salaries or dabble in property. Blessed by nature, they would never work as hard as Germans must in their rotten climate. Why should they, when they had better things to do, like making love, or drinking wine, or lazing around on the beach together? Meanwhile, if the Germans tried to pay for everybody else they'd soon go bankrupt too.
At least she'd have some veggies to eat or barter when Eurogeddon came.
"Here are the first of our strawberries." Proudly she set a bowl of lumpy ones in front of Helmut at the breakfast table. "I just picked them. Don't they smell wonderful?"
Plucking out the largest berry, he deposited it in his mouth. "Tastes rather sour," he mumbled.
"But they smell like heaven, honey. And next year I'll order the proper, high-potassium, liquid fertilizer from the UK. Gardeners there can grow abundant berries from one tower of interlocking planters. You just have to feed them every day."
"Sounds like a lot of work, Mary Lou. Why not pick up a box at the supermarket? They're in season now."
"Helmut, the point here is self-reliance." The birthday card he'd given her, still on the table, showed an anxious hamster in fireman's gear aiming a hose at a fire located somewhere off the page. "And what if there's no food in the markets anymore? What if the farmers hoard it all? You know the stories your parents tell about the war."
His broad face fell. He loved eating meat. Would he have to subsist on Mary Lou's ridiculous rabbit food?
"Don't worry, dear." She patted his beefy arm. "I'm growing potatoes too."
She'd ordered seed potatoes from a region in Holland certified free of plant disease. Promptly, too many potatoes to plant arrived in a cardboard box.
She cooked half, and they tasted like potatoes. After sprouting the rest (38) on egg cartons, she divided them among several sacks the size of body bags, printed with ROYAL MAIL GREAT BRITAIN POST. (Every time she ordered a book from England, it came in a box inside such a sack and sealed with a customs seal.)
"Well, I'm glad our sacks are British," she announced one evening, while watching the war movie A Bridge Too Far on television. "'Cause this is the start of our victory garden."
"Honey, what are you talking about?" With a flick of the remote Helmut cut off the sound.
"I'll have you know that I've declared war on the pols bankrupting Germany."
"Mary Lou, I think you should take a couple of aspirins and go to bed."
Her only problem was the potatoes would require a massive volume of fresh dirt. About 550 liters, she figured: enough to fill the car.
She found nice, new dirt in a garden store, packaged in flat packs. Worried about Helmut's bad back, she didn't let him help her move the dirt. Shifting each pack of 70 liters onto an empty Royal Mail sack, she sledded it through the house, out the back and down the bowling alley of a yard to the garden shed.
"Where did you learn to move loads like that?" he asked from his armchair in front of the TV.
"You'll recall that, before you wandered into my life, I lived for 8 years without a car. I used to carry furniture, mostly wicker, through the streets of Manhattan on my head."
"What have I married?" he asked the quiz show.
"Emerson's Self-Reliance, dear. You may think I've lost what remained of my mind, but we won't go hungry after Eurogeddon."
"Mary Lou, somebody will always sell me something good to eat." He patted his fleshy belly. "I have faith in other people."
"And I have faith in seeds and dirt, and rain."
Her potatoes grew like monsters coming alive, unfurling coarse, enormous leaves. Happily she trotted back and forth every day to the stash of dirt in the shed. You have to keep burying potato plants, to make them grow tall and strong in their sacks. That's what she'd learned from the internet.
She relished the stubborn reappearance of these ugly shoots -- sometimes three times a day. We just want to live, they insisted. No matter how much dirt you dump onto our heads.
Slumped in a line along a garden wall, the seven sacks rapidly swelled and sprouted into a thick, soft hedge of curling leaves. She stuck bamboo poles into the sacks, and wove lengths of twine around her towering plants to keep them from toppling over and breaking.
"How many potatoes have you got in there?" Helmut asked on a sodden, Sunday morning.
"I have no idea; I've never grown food. I guess we'll find out when we open the bags to harvest them."
"And when will that be?"
"When all the green stuff sticking out begins to wilt. That's what the internet says, anyway. I just found a video showing how to dry and store home-grown potatoes."
"If we get any."
"My plants look healthy."
"Maybe those sacks are bulging with worms."
"Helmut, when the markets close I'm not going to make you eat my potatoes. I've got three sacks of dry cat food downstairs."
Tomato plants would rather stay out of the wind, but in blustery Hanover she couldn't offer them this luxury. She kept staking them up, graduating from skewers to bamboo poles. The 4 plants on the roof she tacked to the wall using duct tape and twine.
Surviving wind and storms, and lashings of hail, all 24 tomato plants grew and grew, producing small clusters of yellow flowers. This seemed a good sign: where flowers grow, seeds follow; and that's what you find inside the tomatoes you buy in the store.
Old Herr Pinzer's heavy eyes glowed when Mary Lou confessed, across the back fence, that she was growing potatoes too. After the war he'd gone hungry, subsisting in a local barracks crammed with hundreds of other bombed-out refugees.
"You open the pockets, you say, to check them?" He couldn't imagine the "Let's Grow" bags she'd added to her row of slumping, unlovely sacks from the Royal Mail.
"I found them in a British catalog, between the knitted sweaters and the orange marmalade."
"I'd like to see these famous potatoes."
"Maybe I'll give you some, Herr Pinzer."
But would she harvest any, before hapless Greece crashed out of the Eurozone? And would there be an uncontrollable chain reaction then, like a general train wreck?
Overwatered by relentless rain, would all her budding tomatoes burst?
[To be continued after the harvest, or Eurogeddon--whichever comes first.]
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