The prompt was an avocado: I split it in half, handed everyone a spoon, and passed the halves around the room. We could each take a taste, savor the scent and texture, and then we wrote from whatever came up for us in response:
My mom grew avocado seeds in the windowsill, always had a clear glass or jelly jar mostly filled with water that had, perched on top of it, a bulby brown seed with three toothpicks stuck into it to hold only the bottom half into the water. We’d watch, my sister and I, til the seed split, and you could see the cream-white insides beneath the shallow brown topcoat. Then the root would push out, like a tail, diving down into the water, separating from itself, over the days, into many roots tangling inside the glass. The top would grow, too, the true oblong-almond leaves taking over a corner of the kitchen window that looked out onto our back yard and her garden.
My mother could make anything grow. She sprouted alfalfa seeds, threw mint seeds out the back door and a Jack’s beanstalk-y thatch of strong herb would take hold. She raised gardens that seem, to my little kid memory, like they were acres long and wide — like they honestly went on for miles. I could get lost in them, remember being as high as the bean plants, the tomatoes towering over me.
I have stopped sticking toothpicks into my avocado seeds — I can never remember which side is supposed to go in the water, which side stays out. I forget to refill the glass, and the seed shrivels dry, or I keep it too full and the seed gets slimy with the wrong kind of growth, or else I set it too precariously somewhere and tip the whole set-up into the sink, or onto my single pair of unstained dress pants. When I prep for gardening, I get leggy seedlings where my mother gets strong stocky new plants, and there she is tending her lieblings in the weak Nebraska early spring sun while I’m out here in California where you’re supposed to be able to spit and grow a garden up of whatever if twas you ate for lunch.
The truth is I’m tired of trying to grow my mother’s garden, and I’m desperate to — I want all the wild miraculous over-growth, the yarrow full and stalked like queen anne’s lace, the thick red rhubarb, the tomato plants that go on for days, the chard waving like a wind-break — and more. I want to show her what I can do, have some tender hopeful ground that we can meet on, ground that I’ve loved something good into, that I’ve worked alongside the bees and spiders and jays, and have her squint her brown mamagirl’s eyes at me the way she does when she’s smiling so big and say, “Well, this is just wonderful, Jen” (and hear how we both want her to say “Jenny” still). And I want it not to hurt, like someone’s yanking at all the breaks in my heart, whenever she smiles.