For nearly a year, I’ve been waiting for this paper to go back to print. And now, I feel as though I’ve been reunited with a long-lost love—namely, an inimitable connection with readers. Thank you for choosing to read my words. I consider it an indescribable privilege.
Those who have read my weekly columns during the pandemic know that in the past eighteen months, I’ve essentially regressed into a 1950s housewife, as, like many mothers, my professional pursuits took a backseat as I quickly morphed into a chef, housekeeper, chauffeur, teacher, medic, entertainer and hair stylist (I rue the day I tried to give myself bangs).
In January, my father was hospitalized with COVID-19 and pneumonia. This terrible experience resulted in three changes: I immediately let go of petty grudges and began showing my loved ones unabashed love; I tried dying my roots myself to cover all those stress-induced gray hairs, only to have an allergic reaction that turned my scalp azure blue; and I sought comfort in the warm, cheesy arms of Wacky Mac each night while my father was hospitalized. I gained five pounds in nearly one week.
Between my hand-sown watermelon and that squirrel, I felt like a Disney princess surrounded by lush plant life and obedient creatures.
Yes, I became an apron-wearing June Cleaverzadeh and a pasta-hoarding, worried daughter. But this summer, I also became something I never imagined: a watermelon farmer.
At a local garden nursery, I bought a “Sugar Baby” watermelon plant with two dangling melons, each the size of a golf ball. “How sweet,” my mother said when she saw it in a pot on my balcony. She then proceeded to place three giant melons, including a Hami melon, on my kitchen table, adding, “Your melons are cute, but don’t be delusional. This is the real stuff.”
“How long will they take to grow full-sized?” asked my father with a devilishly hungry look on his face. The man has never met a melon he hasn’t carved. I quickly shooed him away toward the kitchen to set to work dicing my mother’s unsolicited (and clearly superior) offerings.
Soon, I found myself squatting on the balcony and talking to the Sugar Baby watermelon plant, encouraging it to grow and thrive. Once or twice, I chased a plucky squirrel that tried to eat from a birdfeeder off of the balcony. But between my hand-sown watermelon and that squirrel, I felt like a Disney princess surrounded by lush plant life and obedient creatures. Yes, that’s as close as I came to channeling Snow White in Pico-Robertson.
But I learned so much from those two small melons: Don’t waste your precious energy trying to rush something that follows its own timeline; don’t judge someone (or something) for what you perceive as a lack of growth, because there may be a bounty of activity beneath, in the metaphoric (or, in this case, literal) roots. And don’t ignore anything (or anyone) whom you love. Find small ways to connect and engage every day. I was known to sing Persian limericks to my precious watermelons, and I may have even read them the news from time to time.
I also learned to put my need to control everything aside, especially when I had to restrain myself from giving the plant water on Shabbat, even when it looked desperately parched (Jews are not permitted to water plants on Shabbat).
A few weeks ago, my husband and I took the kids on a three-day vacation. When I returned home, both melons were gone. A squirrel had ripped them off of the vine and ran off with his bounty. Whether he rolled them off of the balcony like small boulders is anyone’s guess.
It was a humbling lesson in the impermanence of life (and the need for mesh wire netting).
This week, I’ll be planting a dwarf pomegranate tree on my balcony in honor of Rosh Hashanah. If the squirrel bites into its beautiful fruit, this summer has taught me that there’s only one thing I can do: Hope the creature enjoys a year of sweetness, fertility, and numerous good deeds.
Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer, speaker and civic action activist. Follow her on Twitter @RefaelTabby