(Continued from “Learning While Gardening”)
My first child, Nathaniel, was born in February the year following my cucumber disaster. He must have been four or five months old that spring when I determined to conquer those beetles, get my cukes, and appease Grandma Juanita’s ghost back on over to The Other Side. I fantasized about giving my baby a nice, fat, cold, home made dill pickle, grown in my own garden, when he began to teethe. I took myself to a farm supply store, found a pesticide dust applicator and purchased the Sevin.
This memory still haunts me. And shames me:
The day I planned to get a head start on the Mexican Bean Beetle problem, I put Nathaniel down for his morning nap, then carefully read the label on the Sevin package. I see that I will be handling a poisonous product. I am fully aware that because I have an infant in my house I must treat the product with particular respect. I don a long sleeve shirt, long pants, closed shoes with sweat socks, and a pair of tall rubber kitchen gloves. Outdoors, I tear open the package, and fill the powder hopper with white powder. I point the dust applicator nozzle at the plants and begin to pump the bladder that sends air through the hopper. Puffs of white dust emerge and begin to coat the cucumber leaves in a thin film. I realize that I am down-wind of the applicator when a fine cloud of dust drifts in my face. “Moron, “ I mutter at myself, then turn my back to the breeze so that I am upwind of the Sevin cloud. Gaining confidence, I dust more aggressively, making sure to get the undersides of the leaves, and the vines as well. Water from a pre-dawn rain-shower had not yet evaporated in the morning sun, so the dust adheres to the plants nicely. The applicator works well. I am satisfied with my purchase as well as my performance. Take that, Grandma.
When I am finished, I put my tools away. I rinse my kitchen gloves in the outdoor faucet and store them in my garden tool bucket. When I return to the house, I go straight to the basement, take off my shirt and pants, put them both in the washing machine, add soap and turn it on. I know I will run the machine again when it is empty once I have finished washing my clothes. I want to be careful about leaving residue in the same washer I use for my baby’s cloth diapers. I wash my hands in the basement sink, soap my arms to the elbows to make sure they are dust free. Only then do I return to the first floor where I dress in shorts and a clean t-shirt, and go on about my business.
My baby wakes up fussing about his wet diaper and his empty tummy. It is early summer and the house is warm so he is sleeping in a onesie. His sturdy fat legs are brown and bare and beautiful. It’s all I can do not take a bite of him while I change his diaper, that’s how delicious he looks. I zurbitz that round belly, instead, nuzzle it with my face while he wiggles and pumps his legs, and grips my hanging dreadlocks in his fists. I rest my forehead against his and breathe him in, the two of us face-to-face, shrouded in my thick hair that less than 30 minutes earlier had become contaminated with Sevin .
Yes, I washed my hands and arms. Yes, I washed my shirt and pants. No I did not wash my face or hair. I am, in fact, wearing the same damp shoes and socks that brushed those dust-laden plants as I made my way up and down the wet, poisoned rows. My shoes have contaminated my carpet. The carpet is where my baby has begun to try to explore his world.
I thought I was being careful. I believe I was careful. I know I was not careful enough. How careful would I have to be to be careful enough? More careful than I am? Clearly, more careful than I am.
(See the entire biographical series in “Sho’ Nuff Sistuh’s POV”)