Just last Saturday, I walked into a Half-Price Books and walked out several minutes later and $70 poorer with two sacks of printed pleasure. Thank God that the greater world has not realized the real value of the written word on paper and the vast majority of tomes have never yet reached the price of rubies and diamonds.
Foremost among the jacket blurbs that I thought would be intriguing was this book, Growing, Older, by Jane Dye Gussow. I'm happy to report that its 200+ pages lasted only one plane trip, with only ten pages left over to finish after the last plane pulled up to the gate. The memoir, subtitled "A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables," is a series of thoughts and essays that begin with the story of the unexpected and rapid loss of Dr. Gussow's husband, Alan, to pancreatic cancer, which occurred in 1997. Briefly glancing at the text in the bookstore, I was captured by her surprise to find that, after 40 years of marriage, she didn't really miss her husband, as she detailed her resultant guilt over moving on. She found herself happily skipping down a street only a few weeks later and realized that while she would describe her long marriage as a good one, and would never have considered leaving it, she also recognized that an enormous amount of her energy and efforts went into the care of a socially awkward and dependent husband.
Those thoughts were the textual equivalent of "click-bait" to draw me into the book, but most of the memoirs are actually about gardening and living in the smaller space on the banks of the Hudson River, where she and Alan had downsized only a few years before his death. Finally, here, I found a kindred soul with at least as many gardening trials and tribulations as I often whine about. Dr. Gussow's garden floods several times a year and she is beset with muskrats, skunks, and other pests, all while she tries to raise the majority of her diet on the small plot of land.
I keep referring to her as Dr. Gussow because the now quite elderly lady is an accomplished professor of nutritional ecology, who still teaches an active university course every year while living what she teaches. She was a pioneer in the local and regional food movement, perhaps THE pioneer as recognized by Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, and, throughout this book, she drops a multitude of facts about the real cost of food production into her conversations. Well into her 80's, she still actively gardens, living mostly off her own produce, although what she terms "2-person and 3-person rocks" now require more help to move out of her garden than in previous years.
Dr. Gussow has another previous text, This Organic Life, that I've run across, but never read. You can be sure that I'll be searching for it in the dusty bookstores of my life until I find a decent hardcopy to keep next to Growing, Older.
Postscript: In Growing, Older I found a quote that I really like: "As long as one has a garden, one has a future. As long as one has a future, one is alive." Gussow attributes it to Frances Hodgson Burnett. I like it enough I may replace the Thomas Jefferson quote at the top of my blog. What do you think?