I was chopping up a tomato for my noontime salad the other day when one of my work colleagues said, "Is that from your garden?" and I stopped in mid-chop, suddenly awash in all of those things that I always feel when people ask me about anything domestic: Shame. Guilt. Inadequacy. Failure.
"No," I said. "It's from Target." (What a loser! It's not even from the Farmer's Market! It's from Target!)
I do sometimes grow tomatoes in my yard, but this spring was so cold and wet that I never got around to it. I did plant some cherry tomatoes in a pot, next to a pot of basil, hopeful that a margherita pizza would magically materialize; it produced a few little tomatoes, but not many--perhaps one a day for a couple of weeks before the whole thing turned yellow from neglect.
The basil we used a few leaves at a time (yes, on margherita pizzas) and then last weekend I rashly harvested the rest of it and made pesto.
That is, I googled "pesto recipes," picked the one that looked the least complicated, dug a dusty old half-bag of walnuts from the back of the cupboard where it had been for, um, a long time, and then went out and cut back the pesto plant. I mean, the basil plant.
Isn't it pretty? I dumped the leaves into the food processor, along with the ancient walnuts.
Then I went back on Google to look up the instructions for the Cuisinart because I had totally forgotten how to use it. (Seriously, getting the pieces to lock into place is not easy.)
And then I made the pesto, added perhaps too much olive oil, tasted it, and then stuck it in the freezer, where it will probably stay for a long time until it is covered in ice crystals and we no longer know what it is and we pitch the whole thing out.
I want to have a big garden! I want to harvest things from the dirt, and can them in my steamy kitchen, and look at the rows of blue-glass jars glowing like jewels with their bounty of red and yellow peppers, and luscious tomatoes, and whatever the hell else people put in jars.
I want to stitch my own quilts, too, and have that magical woman's touch that I read about somewhere, possibly in "Little Women," where just moving a few items around in just the right way suddenly makes a damn house a fricking home.
I did go through a time, in my early 20s, when I gardened and canned, and then figured, "Now that I have done this, I never have to do it again." And in my late 20s I made crib-sized quilts for several sisters and friends who were popping out babies at the time (something else I've never done), laboriously stitching everything by hand because I didn't own a sewing machine and didn't want to invest in one, knowing myself well enough to suspect that this was probably a passing phase. (It was.)
One sister wrote me a letter of thanks in which she said that she liked the quilt, used it often, her baby peed on it, she washed it, and it "got all bunchy."
I guess the truth is that I don't really want to do any of those things; I only want to want to do them. In truth, I find the domestic arts to be difficult and unnatural and aggravating; I have no skills in cooking, sewing, decorating or nurturing, and while I would love to blame someone, maybe my mother, I can't, because other people in my family are fabulous gardeners and fabulous cooks and, yes, fabulous quilt-makers, and my own mother, while she hated to sew, knows how to do it very very well and is also the best cook I know.
I did not do well in those mandatory home ec classes in school, either, making the world's simplest skirt (basically a pillow case with an elastic waist, no pockets, no zipper, no waistband, no buttons, no buttonholes), and yet it took me all semester, laboriously picking out crooked seams with that sharp little tool we all had, oh, such picky work, and sweating over the stay-stitching.
The second semester we were required to make an entire dress; I panicked and made a jumper, because I knew there was no way in hell I'd ever be able to set a sleeve. The simple jumper, which I never wore (it was too small) earned me a C because I never got around to doing the top-stitching on the zipper. (I knew that if I attempted it the sewing machine needle would end up embedded, somehow, in the middle of the zipper, and it would break off and possibly the whole machine would go down, and I would end up owing Woodland Junior High School a lot of money. Much easier to just not do the top stitching, take the C I deserved, and skulk on with my life.)
In my mind, I dream of retiring and becoming self-sufficient: Plowing up our wide sideyard and planting vegetables and getting a straw hat and a lovely flat basket for cuttings. (Not sewing my own clothes; even my wildest dreams don't get that wild.)
But when I retire, if that day ever comes, I know what I will really be doing:
I will be doing what I always do in the summertime. Sitting in the backyard with a couple of dogs, something cold to drink, and a good book.
Fortunately, I have a husband who understands.
Thanks, dear. Margherita pizza for dinner?