38: Love Bugs

38: Love Bugs

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and Great

Love Bugs

Look around for a place to sow a few seeds.

~Henry Van Dyke

My father-in-law leaned against his garden hoe and in his gentle voice warned, “If you don’t do something with those bugs, you won’t have any potatoes!” It was the summer of 1981, and we had just planted our first garden after moving to the farm from the big city of Toronto. Not having any gardening experience, I’d thought I could just plant and harvest. I didn’t know there would be many long hours spent in the hot summer sun before we would reap what we had sown.

Standing at the edge of the garden, looking down those long rows of potatoes, I felt very inadequate beside my father-in-law who had been a farmer all of his life. I wondered, Should I tell him I know nothing about getting rid of potato bugs?

As if reading my thoughts, he said he would buy me a bag of potato bug poison when he went to town, and all I would have to do is dust the potato leaves with the powder. It wasn’t long before I saw his truck coming back down our lane. Though I had seen him dusting in his own garden in his shirtsleeves, I read the instructions and precautions on the bag and donned long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, rubber boots, gloves, cap and mask. Up and down the rows I went on a hot summer afternoon dusting the rows with white powder. A week later the bugs were just as bad. We offered our two small sons a penny for each bug they could pick. After they filled a gallon ice-cream bucket, their interest dwindled. So again I went through the same dusting procedure over and over all summer, wondering, Why did God make potato bugs?

After we harvested our first crop of potatoes, I forgot all about the bugs. That is until planting time came around again. How I dreaded the idea of putting poison on our potatoes — organic gardening is what we had been dreaming about in the city. The second summer I decided it was time to tell Grandpa I would do away with dusting the potatoes forever. I took my gallon ice-cream bucket to the garden and began picking bugs.

I was surprised when one morning Grampie joined me there, with his own bucket and a shingle. “It will be easier this way,” he told me. “Just tap the leaves gently and the bugs will fall into the bucket.” Together we went up and down the rows. When I went back to the garden after supper, Grampie was there again. When we finished our garden we went to his garden. The next morning I looked out the kitchen window wondering if he would come again. Sure enough, I saw his truck coming down the lane. I met him at the garden, and with our buckets and shingles, we started down the rows. As we began our chore, Grampie began telling me a story.

“I remember when...” and with each row we walked, Grampie told me stories of the river, stories of how the Lawsons settled here, stories of his mother and father, stories of what it was like when he was a boy and how farming was in days gone by. Every now and then one of us would stop, wipe the sweat from our brows and say, “What good are these bugs anyway?” and then continue on.

Each gardening season, Grampie and I continued picking potato bugs. As his steps grew slower it took twice as long to finish a row but the, “I remember when...” stories became even more precious.

It wasn’t long before my daughter Melanie joined us in our quest to rid the garden of potato bugs, and even at the age of eighty, there were not many days that Grampie didn’t join us in the potato rows. One day Melanie asked, “Grampie, why did God make potato bugs?”

He replied, “I don’t know, Melanie. They are nothing but a bother.”

Then came the summer his cancer progressed. One evening as I went alone to his garden, he called from his lawn chair. I left my bucket in the rows and joined him at the front of the house. The river that he loved so much was calm and peaceful that evening and we sat for a long time as he told me still more river stories. We wondered where we would sell our beans tomorrow and discussed those useless potato bugs.

The next summer Melanie and I were alone in the garden.

Early mornings and late evenings found us there planning our days, wondering where she would spend her gardening money and daydreaming about the mountains. Every now and then one of us would say, “Remember when Grampie...” and more often than not, we would straighten our tired backs and scorn the potato bugs.

By the summer of 1999, Melanie was in Vancouver. I stood at the edge of the garden alone. With bucket and shingle in hand I started down the first row, and from days gone by I heard, “I remember when....” Only now I have my own memory stories. I remembered days spent with Grampie as we formed a rare and wonderful friendship, and days spent with Melanie as she daydreamed about life and the mountains.

I’ve planted my first garden of the new century, and this morning I start on the potato rows with a small boy at my side. My four-year-old nephew Jordan is visiting from Sherbrooke, Quebec. He only speaks French and understands very little of what I say to him, but he understands that I love him very deeply. So when I hand him a bucket and a shingle, he anticipates that Auntie has something exciting in store for him. We start down the first row, Jordan on one side and me on the other. As he reaches across the row with wonder in his eyes, he tucks his small hand in mine. I spot a bug and drop it in his bucket. He looks up surprised and chatters away in French. I explain to him in English why we have to pick these bugs. I continue to find more bugs and drop them in his bucket. He is now intent on finding some for himself — his little head close to the plants, searching. We continue down the rows, delighting in his ability to find as many bugs as he can. He bursts with excitement over all those bugs in his bucket — and so do I.

I finally know why God made potato bugs.

~Darlene Lawson
Chicken Soup for the Christian Woman’s Soul

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