I can’t grow yellow squash, and “Horoscopes by Holiday” Mathis is to blame. She just had to write a column about three years ago, describing each zodiac sign’s critical weakness. There, spelled out on creators.com for all to see, was the shared shortcoming of all Scorpios: “Holds a grudge.”
At first I was like, “No way.” But then I remembered my aversion to attic stairs after that head wound mishap in 1998, and still being mad at Steve Smith in 2009 because he drew giant thighs on my swim team photo in the high school yearbook. (Yep. Just checked. Still mad.) So Holiday does have a point, and it’s evident in my relationship with summer squash. That is, my first impression was not favorable, and I stuck with it.
In my defense, in my childhood squash was zucchini; unable to teleport onto our suburban Virginia dinner table except by way of tinny cans, it was gummy, with dark patches like bruised bananas.
Squash. No good. For 15 or so years. Then, one college-era summer, my best friend Teri and I took a sack of her father’s homegrown yellow crookneck squash with us to my parents’ tiny house in Virginia Beach. (Mom, skip this part). “We’ll live on this and save our money for the bars,” she reasoned. She steamed the slices in the beach house’s one beat-up sauce pan until they begged for mercy, and I dolloped and she slathered Squeeze Parkay and heaven dribbled down our chins.
Now then. Seems us Scorpios can remember swell things just as long as a slight. Since the beach-squash epiphany, I have held all summer squashes in the highest esteem. I’ve even expanded my “good grudge” to include my sister Mary’s sausage-squash-stuffing casserole, perfected in Dalton, Ga., and Asian stir-fried squash spiked with sesame oil as favored by venerable travel-and-food writer Nina Simonds.
But those long years of admiration do not matter, to the squash. It clearly remembers my earlier grudge, and repays me by refusing to grow in my presence. The day I got my first really big garden all dug here in Knoxville, I planted squash right off the bat. I hoed, watered, sang, and weeded. Watched the plants bloom and then... nothing. After weeks and weeks of false hope, some kind soul pointed out the culprits: cut worms. Truly despicable creatures, they sidle up the stem right below the blossom, circle themselves and yank. Aack. Aack. The stem breaks, the bloom falls. Every summer. No garden squash for me.
One year, I stooped to the cut worm’s level and dusted the plants with chemicals. No cuts. Yellow squashes, growing bigger every day. After three days of rain, I knew they’d be ripe for the picking and hustled out—only to find the ends browning and mushy. Stem rot. I gave up.
It’s been years now. I only minded a little when my next-door neighbor Butch presented me with an overflowing bag of yellow squash two summers ago—his extras. I minded quite a bit more when he told me his crop mysteriously failed right after that.
Imagine my surprise last week. Checking the tomatoes I’m growing in a plot at the Beardsley Community Farm off Western Avenue, I see, on the next plant over, still in my garden, a yellow squash. Silky, tender, ready to pick. A gift! Maybe the squash and the cut worms didn’t recognize me, couldn’t trace my scent, so far from home. I rejoiced, and reached to twist the perfect specimen from its stalk.
That’s when my hand grazed another bloom on the plant, and it fell to earth, leaving behind a clean-severed stem.
Cut worms. They’ve got to be Scorpios. Oooh, I’m gonna tell that Holiday Mathis off one day.