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Hard work does a body good

(Not So) Common Sense
Hard work does a body good
By Carole Townsend

We were blessed, once we got past the bleak and dreary weather on Saturday morning, with a gorgeous May weekend here in Atlanta. My husband and I happened to have most of the weekend all to ourselves, so we indulged in the guilty pleasure that most couples with “alone time” enjoy. Gardening.

Carole Townsend

 My dad was a gardener – the serious kind. Even though we lived in a DeKalb county subdivision when I was a kid, the dyed-in-the-wool Tennessee boy insisted on having a half-acre garden. This fact was the source of years of consternation and embarrassment for me as a self-conscious teenager (oh, how self-centered and silly we were at that age). No one else’s parents had a garden. It made us look like hillbillies, as far as I was concerned. Still, every year my dad tilled the earth and planted his impossibly straight rows of green beans, squash, cucumbers, radishes, onions and the ever-fickle tomatoes. 

As embarrassed as Dad’s garden made me feel forty-odd years ago, I obviously paid very close attention to his tips and tricks, to his love of the tilled earth. I suppose I came to understand that Dad gardened because he enjoyed it, yes. But he also gardened because of the way he grew up. Born in 1919, my father knew hunger as my generation never did, certainly as our children never have. He knew the kind of hunger that drove him and his family to trap, gather and garden for survival. He gardened with that same drive in his fifties and sixties, even though the Great Depression was well behind his generation.

My husband and I garden (compared to my dad, anyway) as a hobby. We have two raised beds out back, one for vegetables and the other for herbs. We have several big, lush flower gardens, and thanks to hubby, we have a perfectly-manicured lawn. Oh, we hired the lawn duties out for a year or two but truth be told, we missed them. Besides, my husband finds fault with every household maintenance job that he hasn’t done himself. I think it’s a guy thing.

The flowers and veggies around here are mostly my domain. Dad would be mortified to see my crooked lines of squash and peppers, and my pitiful tomatoes would make him laugh that familiar belly-laugh that I remember so well. And even though my vegetable gardening efforts will never match his, there’s something about working in the dirt that does my soul good. I suppose I feel closer to Dad when I do it, but there’s something more. There’s something about planting a seed or a plant, then nurturing it and caring for it as it grows taller and stronger, then eventually harvesting its gifts. There’s a sense of accomplishment. And there’s a warm, earthy reminder that working the soil brings with it; “ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” I suppose. The earth reminds us of who we really are, without our two-story, four-bedroom brick homes and outrageously expensive cars parked in the driveway (expensive by Dad’s standards, anyway). It reminds us that we are really no more than what we arrived with on this earth, and what we’ll leave with, isn’t it?

On Sunday night, we climbed wearily into bed and slept the sleep that only comes after a day of physical labor done under the warm southern sun. Sure, we had a few aches and pains, but even those contributed to the best night’s sleep we’ve had since…well, since last summer.

Oh well, as with most things, I give the simple task of gardening too much thought these days. I could go on and on, drawing the obvious parallels between gardening and raising a family, but I think I’ll save that for another day. Right now, I think I’ll pour myself another cup of coffee and take a stroll through the gardens one more time this morning. As I do, I will no doubt think of my dad, standing behind his tiller and wearing his trademark work jumpsuit that used to drive my mother crazy. She hated those things. Still, I’ll think of Dad, leaning on one handle of that tiller and wiping his brow, and I’ll look out over our handiwork just as Dad used to look over his, with satisfaction and just the least little bit of pride.

I wonder what he used to get his rows so straight? Whatever it was, I need to find it.

Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published April 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her other three books are MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA & EXHAUST; RED LIPSTICK & CLEAN UNDERWEAR; and SOUTHERN FRIED WHITE TRASH. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on, Barnes &, and at When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, children and the family. For more information, visit