I remember Grandad's holding his hand sideways and spreading his thumb and index finger four inches. "Set them about this far apart," he said, and he handed me a little brown bag of bulbs, leaving me to my row.
When I think of dirt, I think of my hands planting these, my grandad's onions, and how--having already set and covered the bulbs of his own row--he'd be leaning on his hoe in wait by the time I got to the end of my row. Then he'd work his way back up my row, putting the little onions to bed by covering and patting with his well-worn hoe. Dirt in springtime.
I think of his and Grandma's waving from their porch next door as, in autumn, I followed the plow pulled slowly by Dad's tractor across our garden. I plucked potatoes from the ground and plunked them into the bucket I carried, breathing in the cool air and the basic, beautiful smell of the stirred-up earth.
I think of lifting my horse's hooves and picking them clean, popping out rocks and scraping away dirt. I think of patting her hindquarters and seeing the dust rise in a cloud, of combing dried mud from her coat and tail. It brought me peace. More than twenty years later, I miss her so deeply I can hardly stand to look at another.
I think of digging for worms and of the dark, moist dirt that filled the edges of my fingernails and clung stubbornly to my palms: how there's a wholesomeness, sometimes, that makes dirt very nearly clean. I think how I'm unafraid of the oxymoron.
I think of wanting my children to know dirt as more than what I fail to sweep from the kitchen floor, so--one evening, when Rachel was sad--I allowed them freshly-bathed into her dirt pile. I watched as they marveled at such blessed filth. I listened to her laugh into the crisp air and remembered simpler times.
**writing in community with Nacole