You must understand it was a time of War. A time when lines were drawn. A time when family allegiances were questioned. The first battle rang out in spring in a seemingly innocent nursery while purchasing plants for the new garden. You see, my parents purchased a six-pack of zucchini plants. For a family of four. It wasn’t that Alex and I objected to zucchini at the beginning. We actually liked vegetables. We were even known to betray kiddom by requesting Brussels sprouts. Even at the ages of seven and nine my little brother and I could see there was a problem with the math involved with this section of the garden.
Mom and Dad assured us that the math problem would be solved by subtraction when four or five plants died, evening out the zucchini to kid ratio. Now, at first this seemed reasonable. After all Alex and I both knew our dad did not inherit the gardening gene from our Grandfather. If’ Grandpa planted six plants, eight would have grown. But it was our parents doing the gardening, so we trusted several of the plants to wither and restore balance to the garden.
Our trust was horribly betrayed. All six plants not only survived, they thrived. Each zucchini plant produced multiple squash every week. Mom employed every iota of creativity she had in the kitchen to utilize the demon vegetable. We ate fried zucchini with Parmesan cheese (still Dad’s favorite), zucchini pancakes, baked zucchini, zucchini casserole, zucchini quiche, zucchini lasagna, raw zucchini sticks with ranch dressing … you get the idea. Not to mention the quarts and quarts of shredded zucchini stored in the freezer to ensure an entire winter of zucchini bread. Minor skirmishes began to break out randomly at mealtimes.
The battle lines had been drawn.
The next spring the mere mention of planting zucchini brought a torrent of adamant refusals ever to touch the vile vegetable again as long as my brother and I lived. The temper tantrum skills we had long abandoned as mature eight and ten year olds were brought out in full force, with faith that our parents would not find the effort of dealing with the kicking and screaming worth touching a zucchini plant as long as we still lived under their roof.
Dad thwarted our battle tactics by showing up with, yup, a full six pack of zucchini plants. Even more ominously, Grandpa didn’t plant a single summer squash of any variety that year. With his superior knowledge regarding the growth capacity of zucchini he knew what was coming; despite Mom and Dad assuring us that last summer had been a fluke and there was no way all six plants would again survive. We now knew this was biological warfare of the highest level.
Alex and I did not even pretend to cooperate as Mom added dried zucchini chips (“They’re just like potato chips.” Nuh uh!), invented zucchini omelets, stuffed zucchini, and put zucchini chocolate chip cookies (talk about warped and twisted) to the summer’s menu. We fought with every ounce of kid determination. Not one bite of zucchini passed our teeth without complaining, whining, or outright hissy fits. Only our lifelong training in Dad’s strict ban on meal substitutions, clean plate policy, and no snacks if dinner was not eaten was responsible for any of the green stuff being eaten by the under twelve set. We’d have starved to death, which was considered as a battle option, by the end of August otherwise, despite Sunday Dinners at Grandma’s. These were the only zucchini free meals we had by the middle of July and we became more appreciative of Grandma’s excellent cooking than ever before in our lives.
The growing conditions were even better that summer, and not only was zucchini served at every meal in our home and Grandma and Grandpa supplied with as much zucchini as they would agree to accept, but the bounty was spread as far around the area as possible. The neighbors avoided us. People at church checked to see if Mom’s bag had anything green poking out before greeting the family. Car windows were rolled up and doors locked in the small, trusting community to prevent the covert depositing of zucchini in the absence of the owners.
By the end of the summer the trenches had been dug and ammunition stockpiled, along with frozen bags of shredded zucchini, in true Cold War Era tradition.
The third summer Alex and I were determined. We were NOT having another zucchini summer, no matter what the cost. You’d think a gardening lesson would have been learned. But, no, once again a six-pack of zucchini plants was purchased. Even Grandma, with her saintly patience, was heard to utter a small sigh at the news. With the knowledge of the prior summers and my attempts to master horrific fractions, I set my self an equation. With 1-¼ plants per person, if each plant produced an average of four squash every week I’d be eating … more danged zucchini! And all summer long!
Alex and I realized we couldn’t keep the enemy from planting the stupid things, but we could make sure they didn’t survive. Huddled war councils were held in our bedrooms and in the basement storage room. It took stealth, however. Riding a bike through the center of the plant quickly incurred parental wrath. Alex was stuck indoors for two days for that attempt. And it didn’t even work. The infernal squash producer drooped for a couple of days, and then had a growth spurt.
Stealth maneuvers had to be employed. Fortunately our education minded parents had taught us the scientific method, which opened the door for a series of experiments in chemical warfare. We learned that vinegar in small amounts actually encouraged growth, however if a child were to sneak a couple of cups at a time past the centurion guarding the kitchen the zucchini plant took on a slight aroma of pickles before succumbing to death. Timing, however, was tricky and Mom became suspicious of the rate vinegar was disappearing. A smaller arsenal that fit easily into child pockets was needed.
Alka Seltzer produced a promising droop, but more was needed for the killing blow than could be safely appropriated from the medicine cabinet. Aspirin produced a frightening growth spurt. So did anything with sugar. Salt, however, was easy to smuggle and produced a lovely diseased look when carefully sprinkled over the damp leaves. We had yet to learn how stupid adding salt to a garden is. By the fourth application the subject was on its way out. Around that time I discovered an interesting chemical weapon delivery system.
Mom has always had allergy and sinus problems, prompting her doctor to recommend a saline rinse, administered by a large syringe looking device with a curved tube with a small opening for inserting directly into the sinus cavity. Filling this with vinegar and injecting the liquid directly into the base of the zucchini plant immediately resulted in wilting, and within days the plant died dramatically. The best part was that it looked like an insect burrow. Combined with the salted leaves it appeared to be a completely normal garden death. The same delivery system was used with rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide with equally satisfactory results.
I had twinges of guilt when I heard Mom hiss in pain as the traces of vinegar in the syringe hit her sore sinuses after the first time I used this weapon. My guilt evaporated that evening at the sight of zucchini casserole on my plate. This was war after all.
There was a tense day when Mom and Dad appealed to Grandpa’s gardening expertise in discovering the pest that was annihilating the zucchini before it reached the pumpkins or banana squash. Grandpa was a dedicated gardener who would certainly expose our battle tactics. We were sure we would be court-martialed on the spot. Grandpa seriously examined the six dead or dying zucchini plants and with a perfectly straight face diagnosed a burrowing beetle that was not likely to spread far if the zucchini patch was sprayed immediately. Dad dutifully sprayed, but the “beetles” left the pumpkins and other winter squash alone, due to the more reasonable yield they produced. Not to mention the prospect of pumpkin pie.
There was not a single zucchini picked from our garden that summer. A few of the neighbors did retaliate from the previous summer by leaving zucchini on our doorstep, though, so we weren’t completely zucchini free. But we were again able to enjoy the summer growing season with beans, corn, tomatoes, and peas.
My parents did grow zucchini again, but that same odd beetle continued to find the zucchini patch, even after we moved, with only one plant ever surviving the attack. Eventually Alex and I stopped bursting into tears at the sight of a zucchini.
Although Alex and I have grown up to be avid gardeners with Grandpa’s gardening gene, neither of us will plant more than one zucchini!