The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Great Carrot Massacre

By Dee Ambrose-Stahl © 1996

Issue: Summer, 1996

Growing up with two older sisters and an older brother, and being of a competitive nature, I have always felt the need to prove myself, to my siblings, my parents, my teachers, anyone I considered an adult. Any opportunity that arose for me to prove that I was an adult trapped in a child's body was capitalized upon.

My father has always had the most beautiful gardens in the area. All the rows are perfectly straight, all plants are the exact sane distance apart, and the pathways between rows are the exact same width. The local rodents wipe their feet before entering to munch on the fruits of dad's labor.

Neither my brother nor my sisters ever took much of an interest in gardening. I, on the other hand, would have much preferred being up to my knees in dirt and manure in the garden than, say, preparing dinner or watching television. Maybe it was this love of the earth and what grows in it that earned me the greatest title I felt one could earn: "DAD'S BESTEST HELPER."

It never took more than for my brother to say "You're not Dad's Bestest Helper, I am!" to send me wailing to my mother to "tell" on Rick. I never went to dad with my complaint, though, secretly afraid that if I told dad, it might be true. That was not a risk I was willing to take.

On a hot summer afternoon, I decided to surprise dad by weeding the garden. He was working afternoon shift, which meant he would be leaving by 2:15. I hid by the side of the house and watched as the pick-up truck made its way to the top of the driveway. When the red Chevy was gone, I raced to the garden, full of the excitement of a scientist about to discover the cure for cancer, because I was about to rid dad's prized garden of its cancer, weeds.

As I stood in the middle of the garden, surveying the task ahead of me, I imagined that, when I was through, this garden would look just like the pictures in dad's gardening books and magazines. The only thing visible between the rows and plants would be rich, fertile soil, the color of dark chocolate. Hands on hips, I breathed in the smell of the tomato plants, then wrinkled my nose, wondering how something that smells so good could taste so bad.

Time to get down to business. Quick to make a decision, and quicker to change my mind, I settled for a smaller goal: to weed the entire row of carrots. I dug my bare toes into the soil, enjoying the way the coolness felt on such a hot day. I plopped down in the dirt and set about my task. Almost immediately, my glasses began slipping down my nose. "What a bother" I thought, and, with dirty hands, shoved them back to their proper position, not caring that the dirt from my hands was now streaking my face.

All the while I am weeding, I keep hearing dad's voice in my mind.

"You're my Bestest Helper" reverberated through my head, and I could visualize the proud expression on his face as he would hold my tiny hand, while looking at the now perfectly weeded row of carrots, which, in my imagination, were now about twelve inches tall, with the tops the most vibrant shade of green one has ever seen.

Whether it was because I was daydreaming, or because weeding tiny carrots is a tough task for a child, I will never know, but the fact remains this; when I was done, there were a lot fewer carrots than there had been when I started. And, for a reason I could not pinpoint, the garden looked NOTHING like the pictures in all those gardening books. Not even the row of carrots looked like they were supposed to. Some were lying over on their sides. Some were half in, half out of the dirt, and as I looked at the wilted piles of weeds laying lifeless in the pathway between the carrots and beans, tiny, shriveled, droopy dots of orange looked back at me, as a convicted criminal must look at his jury. My feelings of sorrow for the poor carrots went immediately to feelings of terror. What will dad say? What if, perish the thought, WHAT IF RICK REALLY IS DAD'S BESTEST HELPER?????

The next day, I kept busy anywhere and everywhere, EXCEPT the garden. I kept hoping against hope that dad wouldn't even go to the garden. So much for the idea that I would drag him by the hand to show him the great job I did. It would take more than my hopes to keep dad out of his garden, though, and when I saw him headed that way, I went the opposite direction.

A short time later, dad found me playing in the little stream that feeds our pond. It was a great place to catch crayfish. They had all hidden from dad as well, I figured, because there was not one crayfish to be found. I was intently examining a stone I had found in the stream. All its texture had been worn smooth by the gentle currant of the stream. Any other time, the stone would have been cast aside in my search for bigger and better treasures. This, however, was no ordinary day. "Who weeded the carrots?" Dad asked. Without looking up, as I was still deeply entranced by my stone, I answered, "Me," in as off-handed a way as I could. "Well, you sure did get all the weeds," and he walked away. He never raised his voice, and while it wasn't the accolades I had set out to win, neither was it the put down for which I had been preparing myself.

The Great Carrot Massacre was not mentioned again, until recently. We had just finished eating dinner, and I asked dad if he remembered the time I tried to weed the carrots. Coffee cup in hand, he nodded his agreement. With a wistful look in his eye, he replied, "Yes, I remember," and just as quickly, the look of melancholy was gone, replaced by a humorous glint and a smile. "You know, you really are supposed to thin carrots, but I never had the heart to pull them out once they got growing."

This was his way of telling me it was O.K., twenty years after the fact. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced I have seen that humorous glint on my father's face once before, but then I had this really interesting stone in my hand, and the sun was so bright, I couldn't look up into his face...

In looking back, I've come to realize something. My parents never wanted perfection from us, only effort. I would have been Dad's Bestest Helper even if I had demolished the entire garden. This revelation holds true today. No matter what goals my siblings and I may aspire to, it doesn't matter to my parents. What matters is that we have goals, not how much or how many we achieve.