I’m standing at the kitchen sink peeling literally the 78th peach this week when the Bearded One approaches and touches my back. I lean into his hand and request a scratch. I’m on my last peach for the eighth and final tray of the new dehydrator, my hands are slimy, it’s hot and my back itches. Ever chivalrous, he obliges. Oooooo, I say. To the left. Yes, yes. Down. I shiver. We now call this sex.
Earlier we had both been in the garden digging up potatoes. At this time of year especially, when there’s so much physical work to do, whether it’s digging potatoes or turning compost, we try to be sweet to each other, offer encouragement and praise, say thank you and please and make each other sandwiches. I help adjust the TV antennae to get the football channel. He vacuums the red rug. The shovel may be the centerpiece of the farmer’s life, but it’s the chivalry that makes it all work.
Shoveling potatoes is tricky because you don’t want to stab them. Just loosen the soil, then I use my bare hands to feel around in the trench for them. The Bearded One wears gloves to just reach in and force them out. It’s exciting and we shout and show our biggest and weirdest to each other, but it takes ages. My back not only itches, it aches.
“Could you rub my left lat, Sweetie?” I say. He kneads my tight, aching latissimus dorsi, which I hurt angling the buckets of potatoes into the root cellar. I dug the shallow root cellar last year and the Bearded One made the lid. It kept our potatoes and carrots and cabbage consistently in the 40’s and humid last year. This year I’m using the recycled buckets because last year’s cardboard boxes disintegrated.
The compost didn’t completely cook this year (we only had maybe 2 weeks of summer — in the 80’s…), so shoveling it has been a huge pain. You have to fork it because the straw and other garden debris is still interlaced. It doesn’t smell, it just hasn’t completely disintegrated. We’ve both been forking it out. “Up,” I say to my masseuse. “More. More. Right there.” I lean back hard into his hand.
The Bearded One has designed a new compost system for next year which will include the straw with chicken poop. We’ve spent many hours watching our new hen Kimber and the Seven Chicks, which have easily doubled in size in two weeks. They run and flap and actually get some hang time, as the Bearded One says. But the poop is starting to be noticeable. It will greatly enrich the compost, but there’s another thing to shovel, load, haul, dump, turn, empty and spread.
I stretch to the side, then to the other side. I’m finally finished with the peach and am about to say my thanks and tell him how much I love him when he cries “Ouch!” His own sore back has spasmed. “Oh, Sweetie,” I say, “thank you for the back rub!”
He shuffles away, crippled and incoherent. “The gift of the Magi,” he mutters.
I laugh and wince. Shovelry is not dead, but it could kill you.