With gardening always comes the harvest — a communion with our Earth, the holy connection between us and the planet. What better way to participate in this than by eating a cherry tomato or snap pea that we have grown in relationship with the Earth? This replenishment of our bodies with what the Earth offers us through our own labor aided by nature’s gifts of sun and rain creates a circular relationship of spiritual unity. Perhaps this is the true meaning of Eucharist, which comes from the Greek for gratitude. By receiving the garden’s bounty into our bodies, we gain the strength, energy, and respect to continue our lives in tandem with it.
One August, when most Italians flee their homes for holidays in the countryside or al mare, Giuseppa was faithfully tending her rows of tomato plants. I passed by one cloudy afternoon to find her worried over the possibility of rain. “If it rains, Caterì, it will ruin all the ripe tomatoes.” She and her extended family spend two days peeling and canning these tomatoes for the winter months. I offered to help her pick them without realizing what I was actually getting into. She accepted my offer, grabbed some crates, and bounded out into the field, calling for me to follow with the wheelbarrow. We spent nearly four hours picking tomatoes that afternoon with her chatting the entire time.
“We used to work for a patrone,” she told me. “Half of what we harvested went to the landowner. One hot summer day, I carried a heavy basket of tomatoes the long road up to the landowner’s house. I used to carry everything on my head in those days, but the wet wash from the lavanderia was always the worst, especially in winter.
“I arrived in the midday heat with those tomatoes. I had been working all morning in the fields and hadn’t eaten a thing. It was a thirty-minute walk straight uphill. The sweat was pouring down me. Do you think that Signora offered me a glass of water or a shady place to rest for a moment?”
We hauled the crates onto the wheelbarrow. “Wait, Caterì, let me help you. These crates are too heavy.” She worked like a twenty-year-old and didn’t seem to tire. Visibly rejoicing in the summer harvest, she became more animated and energized as the number of crates of tomatoes grew and grew. Meanwhile, my back was killing me even as I marveled over the variety and seemingly endless number of tomatoes that lay hidden inside the masses of vines.
As we returned to the fields, Giuseppa lingered for a moment next to the tiny clusters of unripe grapes. “Do you remember last year?” my professoressa quizzed me. “The grapes were ruined with disease. This year the plants are green and lush with fruit. It will be a good year for wine.”
She brushed one hand tenderly over the grapes. “Every year has its own season. Just like our lives. One year there is fruit, another only ruin.”
“But at least here in the campo,” Giuseppa laughed, “there’s always something to eat.”
Note: This story was written while the author was still living in Italy in 2007. It is the last of a three part series.