Separation Anxiety


August 28, 1994|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

I just returned from vacation, and guess what? The garden is right where I left it.

The landscape is intact. Imagine that. The plants haven't budged, except to grow taller. Nothing else changed, despite my misgivings.

I'd left home with doubts. Always do.

I fret about leaving this place, even for one week a year. Every summer, while at the beach, I imagine the garden being struck by some cataclysmic event. I picture flowers floating off in a flood; trees uprooted by a twister; shrubs disappearing down a sinkhole.

My fears are for naught. The garden has never been hit by disaster. Yet that doesn't stop my worrying. This year was the worst yet. All the way to the shore, I envisioned the backyard being hit by a comet.

I was wrong, by Jove.

My wife says it's silly to dwell on woes of seismic proportions. "Don't you have enough gardening hang-ups to cope with while on vacation?" says Meg. "Can't you be miserable just worrying about who will water the plants, pick the vegetables and squash the bugs?"

Of course I can. For instance, I know that the moment we drive off, the tomatoes will ripen in unison; rabbits will attack in broad daylight; and rain will not fall for a week.

That's why I've deputized my neighbor, Angelo, to patrol the yard in my absence.

Angelo has orders to harvest the crops and harass the pests while I'm gone. Of course, I do the same for him. Fortunately, one of us is always home. Heaven forbid our vacations should ever coincide.

See, gardening is more lifestyle than hobby. I can't hit the surf without worrying about the turf back home. I see weeds growing at warp-10 speed; zucchini as big as baseball bats; and a shaggy lawn that could belong to the Addams Family.

Two hours at the shore and I'm ready to leave. But the family doesn't share my concerns, so I'm stuck in the sand.

Well, it's not all that bad at the beach. I pass the time by chatting with Angelo. I phone him regularly for garden updates. Once when I called, he had just picked two of my zucchini. The next time we spoke, he'd picked nothing.

You'd think something would have ripened in an hour.

My daughter doesn't understand my yearning for the yard. She thinks I'm married to the garden. (I did lose two wedding rings out there).

"How can you be homesick?" says Beth. "You spend a whole week in the yard, watering and weeding, before we go away."

It's true. For days before our departure, I pamper the garden terribly. I soak the plants, remove dead blossoms and harvest every ripe vegetable, no matter how small.

The beds are never neater than the day we head for the ocean. It's a shame we're not there to enjoy them.

Five minutes before we leave, I make my last pass through the garden, stripping the rows of any veggies that matured overnight. I stuff them into a foam cooler for the journey.

"I don't know how you can miss the garden while we're gone," says Meg. "You take most of it with you."

But homesick I am. Every roadside stand reminds me of what I've left behind. For solace, I pat the foam cooler on the seat beside me.

The beach itself is a pleasant place, filled with salty sights and smells and seagulls with more chutzpah than the rabbits who frequent my garden. The gulls will steal your fries on the fly. At least the rabbits wait until I'm gone to attack.

I try not to fret at the shore. Diversions help. This year I hung out at an amusement arcade, playing goofy games.

My favorite was "Whack-A-Mole," a game in which players use mallets to pound the bejabbers out of mechanical moles that pop in and out of holes. The trick is to guess which mole will surface next.

Of course, I had to play the game. For years I've been quarreling with the live moles who tunnel through my garden. Alas, I've never whacked one.

I enjoyed whacking the mechanical moles. I found it quite satisfying to crack the critters' skulls and give them headaches, for a change.

I won the game, hands down.

"Congratulations," said the barker, handing me my prize.

It was a stuffed rabbit.

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