The Pickles of Wrath 

STAR Tannery, Virginia - I am writing this from a bunker deep within the recesses of my house. Whether this dispatch will reach anyone before tragedy overtakes us, I cannot say. Just know that I have fought the good fight. Know that, whatever happens, I did my best to mitigate the tide of what was to come.

I can hear them coming now, knocking on my door, feigning a friendly disposition and acting as if nothing was wrong. They were my friends once - neighbors and relatives. Back in the spring when all seemed possible, we exchanged information, helped each other out, borrowed tools and exchanged materials. We all shared a common goal: to bring down the price of our grocery bills.

It all seems so ironic now - how naive we all were back then.

I remember those days, from the humble beginnings on each of our kitchen tables, laying out carefully each little patch of vegetable for which we hungered. We knew, even then, not to try anything difficult the first year. Our newly plowed soil hadn't the years of enrichment as that of some of our more established neighbors. We would not make that newbie mistake; just a little lettuce, some tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers and squash.

And only two zucchini plants, we laughed, well remembering our office days and entering a break room festooned with useless, giant baseball bat-sized vegetables.

Then came the days we realized we were not alone. As we each broke ground on our tiny plots of soil, we'd wave to each other over fences and hedges and share advice we'd read the night before over the internet. There were those among us who had established gardens already and they offered roto-tilling services and tips specific to our local soil.

I laugh now to think of how we'd talk at night of how wonderful it was to live in such a helpful, caring community.

It started innocently enough. There was one elderly gent, a longtime resident of the area, whose garden was the envy of us all. One day, we all said, we would have a garden like that. He spoke of his early peas and potatoes. He could plant earlier than any of us, since his soil had been worked and enriched for the past 20 years.

While we watched and waited, weather having delayed the tilling of our newly-established plots, he offered us little teaser gifts of cucumbers, early tomatoes and tiny zucchini. He'd come whistling over, his straw hat at a jaunty angle, and show us what just a little patience and effort would eventually afford us.

Then one day our own gardens suddenly began producing. For a week, each afternoon featured a show-and-tell among us as we pulled the first vegetables to be consumed that evening for dinner. We feasted on cucumber salads, zucchini and pasta, salad with grape tomatoes, fried zucchini rolls, cucumber sandwiches and tomato basil salad. We scoffed at those suckers who bought those hideous grocery store vegetables and strutted about our frugality and thrift.

When the garden began producing more than we could eat at the time, we began canning and freezing, frantically trying to keep ahead of the wave. Sure, it was the hottest time of year, but part of being frugal warriors like us was to not waste good food. So what if it meant we'd have to eat zucchini bread for every meal every day of the coming year to use up all that those two plants yielded? So what if I have enough jars of garlic dills to supply every deli between here and Vermont? We would not be wasteful!

'But wait!' we thought. 'We will share our abundance!'

And that's how it began: Each evening a representative of each household would stalk the neighborhood with an armload of vegetables, looking for someone, somewhere, upon whom to unload them.

Pretty soon we began avoiding each other, afraid that if we threw our hand up to wave, someone would stick a zucchini in it.

Our elderly neighbor for whom we had so kindly relieved his over-production? He had burrowed into the bowels of his house, the only testament of this existence the hum of his air conditioner. We suspect he is the one who prowls the neighborhood at night, leaving grocery bags of cucumbers on people's doorknobs. We've had to release the dogs several times at night.

That's the only time we open our doors these days. That -- and to throw the useless, giant baseball-bat sized zucchini into the compost pile.

Copyright (c) 2007, SteelWill, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Spot On is a trademark of SteelWill, Inc.

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