Today’s chore is to crawl and stoop about the beds to haul in Ms. Johann’s final harvest.
I discovered the medicinal benefits of apple pie while writing a book. It’s in the way the softened apples melt into a buttery crust and forms a kind of batting around the mind and a stilling weight to the body that almost always quiets any lingering residue of wattage that disturbs my rest.
You can ask as many times as you want and use all the interviewing tricks you know but she won’t give you the recipe. “They’d go ahead and screw it up and then it’d be ‘oh, Ms. Johanna’s cake isn’t good at all,’ all over around here.”
Ms. Johanna planted many of her herbs from what she read in stories about medieval kingdoms, some historical but mostly fantasy, preferably with dragons and complicated battles and skulduggery among the ruling class.
Ms. Johanna’s been telling me that the old straw hat I wear is too heavy to do any good when we work in the garden (it does just fine). She said she needed to teach me how to make a real hat but we had to have some newspaper, specifically The New York Times.
Mom adored and respected Mrs. McLoughlin but all her preparations belied a lingering insecurity from growing up poor, afraid of being considered shabby.
Ms. Johanna came upon the vacant lot on one of her walkabouts after she retired. Bamboo and trashed choked, it seemed a perfect place to park her considerable energy. She brought a machete the next time she came around. By summer’s end, the soil had been replenished and mulched Four raised beds overflowed with herbs, some beans, corn and berry bushes. That was twenty-two years ago. Now 82, she’s still working this portion of earth pretty much by herself.