Fresh vegetables have been finding their way onto our dinner table. I know they’re fresh because clumps of dried dirt rain down from them as my wife hauls them out of the sacks she took to the gardens and farmers markets.
“Isn’t it wonderful!” she exclaimed over a haul of cucumbers, potatoes, squash and such.
I shuddered. Terrors of the garden have frightened me since that summer with Ollie.
I was visiting Ollie – my third cousin twice removed but not far enough for prudence – when we got sentenced to garden duty for some perceived offense or other.
I think it may have been the time we tried to ride a couple cows to Dairy Queen, the poetic justice of which appealed to our 9-year-old senses of humor. The traffic cop who called Aunt Tillie was not 9. You would think he’d never seen a Jersey sitting on a Toyota before.
Aunt Tillie had crested into full splutter by the time she herded us all back to the farm. She wound up with a by-now rather familiar refrain: “If you hooligans have nothing better to do than play in traffic with our best milk cows, I’ll find you something better to do!”
That’s how we came to be sentenced to helping her pick green beans.
I never have found a job that involved either stooping or crouching that couldn’t be made easier by sitting. Lazy, my dad called it. Ingenious, I called it.
While Aunt Tillie creaked and groaned every time she bent over another of those villainous plants, I scooted along a few rows over, snapping off the ugly beans without all her theatrics.
Unfortunately, at one lean, she caught a glance of me.
“It’s OK,” I said as she whirled on me, her eye creaking with every flap as that nervous tic of hers fired up. “These are my old pants.”
“You’re not sitting on the dirt,” she screeched. “You’re sitting on the row behind you. You’re squashing the tomatoes!”
It was about then that the snake, apparently disturbed by Aunt Tillie’s flailing about, took refuge up my pant leg.
Honest, I’m not afraid of snakes. But neither am I real hepped up about sharing the same pair of britches with a nervous garter snake.
I started hopping about a bit, over the peppers and through the peas, not because I was scared, but to encourage the snake to change directions. It flapped around a bit, got a grip on my knee and started squiggling for a better hold.
“Stop stomping the beets!” Aunt Tillie offered by way of advice for dealing with snakes in one’s pants.
“I got it!” Ollie hollered. He sprinted for his cork gun he’d left leaning against an apple tree, pumped it and started pelting my leg first with corks, then with dirt clods when the corks ran out.
“Ow!” I yelped. “The other leg, Ollie, the other leg! No, wait, it is this leg now, it is this leg!”
It was at this point that I decided that if the snake wanted to try on my pants so badly, he should do so without interference. I was 20 feet away and gaining speed by the time my abandoned pants settled on a stalk of sweet corn 20 feet the other direction.
“Honest,” I told my wife as I shudder over the memory, “I’m not afraid of vegetables straight from the garden. But I think I’ll just sit here atop the refrigerator until you bring me a second pair of jeans. Just in case.”