Bugs, Boys, and the Wrath of God


My father grew up on a farm in south Mississippi, which means that he grew up growing what he ate, and that he ate things like turnip greens. Ugh.

I grew up on Southern cooking, but it was my mother’s Southern cooking, not my father’s, and while she also grew up in south Mississippi, she grew up in the city. Biloxi, right on the Gulf, where they eat boiled shrimp, seafood gumbo, and fried oysters. If her city-folk family ate turnip greens I never saw it, and they never made it to our supper table when I was small.

Thus her children rose up and called her blessed.

A few years after we moved to Maryland Dad struck a deal with someone who had a large backyard to let him plant a garden in part of it. Soon after that my brothers and I found out that being the sons of a Mississippi farm boy apparently made us indentured servants.

There are surely child-labor laws against such a thing now, but at that time we were forced to work in the hot sun. We took to singing stuff like “Bound for Canaan Land,” and “Come Down Angels.”

Every farm boy knows that the biggest challenges to a good vegetable garden are weeds and pests, and every farm boy knows what to do with weeds and pests—you kill ‘em.

With pests—mainly bugs—you used some kind of insecticide. Remember, this is more than forty years ago and “organic” wasn’t yet a thing that anyone really cared about.

Dad would buy some dust or spray and he’d spray his tomatoes and corn. I guess that there were herbicides he could have used for the weeds but that’s where we came in. Our job was to pull the weeds, which when you think about it is a form of herbicide. We were killing the weeds.

That’s what you do with weeds and pests—you killed them. You used some form of pesticide or herbicide. What my dad didn’t realize is that he would also need some form of son-icide.

One time we were shackled, piled into the back seat and driven to the killing fields for another experience of forced labor. Dad had set my older brother Mickey to the task of weeding the turnips.

Apparently he didn’t do a very good job of explaining to Mickey what a turnip plant actually looked like.

I can’t remember exactly what task of serfhood he had me doing, I just remember that after about thirty minutes I heard Dad yelling and screaming. I looked up to see Mickey holding some ungodly plant in his hands with a look of terror and confusion on his face. Seemed that he had managed to pull every last turnip plant out of the ground.

I don’t know what if anything remained in the ground but apparently it wasn’t edible. Of course, my brothers and I didn’t think that turnip greens were edible, but at that moment we kept that little tidbit to ourselves.

Dad was really, really mad, anger of course being one of the stages of grief. He skipped right over denial and bargaining, had a brief sojourn with depression, then after about ten minutes moved on to acceptance.

Which is why Mickey is still alive at age 58, and why Dad to this day gets a kick out of telling this story to everyone. And when he does, he always laughs the hardest.

You see, sons may be a danger to the garden, but you only kill weeds and bugs.

God created this world to bring forth an abundance of life, not just for humans but for all of creation. His children, however, are pretty good at killing things, though we aren’t very good at telling what’s a weed and what’s not and we end up weeding pretty much the entire garden.

Though that might make God angry, it’s the anger of seeing the destruction of something at once beautiful and life-giving.

This is where we get messed up regarding the wrath of God, thinking it’s about punishing us for making a mess of things. Yes, we’ve made a mess of his creation, but none of us should think for a second that God ever treats anyone as a weed or a pest in his garden.

We’re his children, and he will never harm us.

He’d rather teach us to be better gardeners.

Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / bdspn

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