Editor’s Notebook, Features and Occasionals

Editor’s Notebook

By Greta Belanger deJong

This is the Harvest Issue. I’m glad other people are harvesting be­cause, through the blessing of farmers markets and friends, I won’t starve. My own garden was just plain dumb this year. I could blame it on the sudden death of my most-favorite-dog-ever, Tesla, and my decision to bury him in the best garden plot in the yard. But as he died on June 29, well past prime planting time, you can see that’s a lame excuse.

Besides, I chose that spot for him because he’d claimed it earlier for himself as a place to water the alfalfa groundcover. (The downside of these progressive-minded “gardens not lawns” landscapes is that a dog can feel a bit at loose ends.)

A better excuse is the chickens: I let them free-range, and everything short of rose bushes, the tougher herbs and sunflowers was fair game. All my seedlings became their snacks. The girls buried the stepping stones with mulch they flung with their powerful talons as they hunted for bugs in the garden beds. The otherwise attractive brick patio is daily splotched with new droppings. Hens reign this year; Next year, no way.

Still, they offer inexplicable joy. I love seeing their red combs bobbing among the mint and hearing their chortling coo. Do they have personalities only because I give them the room to cultivate them? Do factory-farmed birds secretly long for the fresh goji berries my girls so love? And, of course, there are the eggs.

It’s hard to reconcile these beautiful, so-soft creatures with “meat.” While I still eat chicken, philosophically I prefer beef: It takes a lot of dead birds to equal one cow.

I was in Wisconsin for my high school class reunion last month. That, actually, was anticlimatic. The big event was the gathering of some of my grade school friends.

We were a class of 50 who shared the same teachers (all nuns), classrooms, life events and prejudices from first through eighth grade. St. Margaret Mary Cath­olic School, class of ’66. One teacher per year for 50 students. Can you imagine? But it was easier then. We were groomed to be “good,” maybe even a bit smug in our virtuousness.

After our reunion dinner party, around 10 p.m., we “snuck” into our old grade school. The halls looked exactly the same—I’d recognize that tile anywhere. We headed straight for the gym, which held so many memories for us all.

Contrary to what you’d expect from a Catholic school, we had a lot of freedom. We would think up a project—putting on plays, writing fiction, making murals—and inform our teachers what we were planning. They gave us class time and did not interfere: no adult supervision. We handled everything ourselves (with maybe some help with the mimeograph machine for scripts and programs—this was long before Kinko’s).

The gym is also where “official” school assemblies occurred, including much seasonal singing. I saw my first movie there, in the first grade (Rose Marie, at that time already an oldie, from which I still get chills recalling Jeannette McDon­ald and Nelson Eddy singing Indian Love Call), and participated in many talent shows through the years. It was the home of our first-ever “boy-girl” dance party that continued on Wednesday afternoons throughout the seventh grade. Oh yes, there was basketball, too. I half-heartedly raised my pom-poms for the blue and gold, and have main­tained a lifelong lack of enthusiasm for any sport. Still, I loved that gym.

We laughed, recollecting the nuns’ ambitions for us to have “vocations”: For us girls, they let us know sisterhood was where it was at. Marriage was presented as a shabby second best. Perhaps as a result, we’d produced few offspring (though no nuns).

I mused over how “perfect” we’d all been. Life has had its way with us, and we’re the wiser for it. But those were good years, and we’ve grown into decent adults. In a way, we are harvesting the seeds planted so long ago.

Greta Belanger deJong is the editor and publisher of CATALYST. Greta@CatalystMagaizne.net

This article was originally published on September 29, 2015.