Long Row

A friend of mine will soon move to a new house and has been consumed with the process of packing for quite some time. He lamented the fact that no matter how much he gets done he continues to see piles and stacks and shelves full of things yet to be boxed. Adding to the stress, he’s nearing the semester’s end of coursework towards a Master’s degree. This combination has him overwhelmed. He complained a bit more about the work left to do.

“I’ll never finish.” he moaned after his update.

“Well.” I said. “It’s like that row of tomatoes.”

He didn’t get it.

With no idea what I meant he stared into the distance preoccupied by stress. Then, remembering similar comments of mine in the past his head whirled back towards me. “Wait, is that another Nannie thing?” he asked.

“It’s another Nannie thing.” I nodded confirmation and began my story.

My grandmother was a master gardener – not certified, but instinctual. Nannie used one green thumb in her flower beds and the other in her massive vegetable garden. It was no garden for the weak as it fed her and the families of each of her five children. All pitched in. On most evenings you could see some combination of aunts, uncles, and cousins pulling, picking, weeding, or watering somewhere along the lengthy rows.

One year Nannie planted more tomatoes than usual. It was work enough to keep vines picked clean on a normal year, but that was a good tomato year and there were additional rows. Somebody was going to have their work cut out for them.

“Somebody” that year was me and my cousin Jan.

I didn’t recall our volunteering for tomato duty. Still, Jan and I ended up on the front lines the morning Nannie called to say there were tomatoes to be picked. We walked casually towards the long rows, empty buckets swinging from our hands, not bothered in the least by a few silly tomatoes. The picking began.

“I’ll never finish.” I moaned.

Sweat dripped from Jan’s nose as she bent to pick another tomato. She seemed to be handling the season pretty well so far. She always loved tomatoes.

“I hate tomatoes.” she stood slowly with a full bucket.

Once tomato vines start producing they don’t stop so the picking was a daily chore. The first week of the season Jan and I met under the grape arbor to have a few laughs before starting. This would be fun. By the second week we weren’t laughing. This wasn’t fun.

We didn’t pick alone. Nannie was right there with us and if she wasn’t it was only because she was shelling beans, pulling corn, or freezing or canning one ripe thing or another. Weeks into the season and Nannie never faltered. Each morning she’d grab a bucket, hum a hymn, and walk methodically down a tomato row. Jan and I limped along behind her.

The rows were so long that I swore green tomatoes I passed at the beginning were ripe before I got to the end. Each tomato became a lead weight and the end of each row seemed farther away than before. Jan and I sweated, clutched our aching backs, and whined that the rows were getting longer when we weren’t looking. Nannie never complained which added to our frustration. How could she be so happy about this? Why wasn’t she tired of it? How did she stay so happy about a chore that seemed never-ending?

We asked her just that.

“Well.” Nannie began. “Sometimes you need to look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.”

Oh. And with that she effortlessly picked up two full buckets and headed back to the house, happily humming all the while.

I wrapped up the story for my friend by saying that while Jan and I did continue to pray for an early frost, we put Nannie’s advice to use for the duration of the season. Our muscles stayed sore and our backs still cramped, but admittedly the burden seemed lighter by looking at how far we’d come and not how far we had yet to go. I thought my friend might apply that notion to his packing and school work, or to any effort really.

He didn’t get it.

He politely thanked me for yet another Nannie-ism and grumbled that he had to rush home to the hassle of more packing and to finish a paper for his graduate class. I assumed that was the last I’d see of him for a while knowing his workload. However, I happened to pass him on the street just a week or so later. I prepared to hear the negative update on the packing and schoolwork, instead he was all smiles.

I didn’t get it.

He casually mentioned the packing he had left to do and although he’d finished the paper for school, he now had one more to complete. Still he continued to smile. I couldn’t help but ask about his new attitude.

“You still have plenty going on but it’s not getting you down as much?” I asked.

I was then afraid I’d given him a reason to sink back into the negativity of all he had yet to finish. I tried to clarify by saying I understood how stressful it was to have multiple things to accomplish and how understandable it was to feel bogged down at times. Knowing he had so much to get done I was happy to see he wasn’t overwhelmed by all he had left to do, which showed in his attitude.

“Well.” he grinned. “Sometimes you need to look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.”

He got it.

Stuart M. Perkins


Filed under Family, garden, grandmother

373 responses to “Long Row

  1. I have nominated you for the Dragon’s Loyalty Award on my blog 🙂

  2. This is beautiful. Can I link to this in my blog please?

  3. Reblogged this on talkingthisandthat and commented:
    Here is an amazing anecdote of wisdom about perspective when things get challenging:

  4. realcatholicmom

    Dear Mr. Stuart, your Nannie sounds a lot like my Nonnie. Thank you for so deftly sharing her wisdom! Looking forward to reading more. ☺️

  5. Great storytelling! Makes me feel like I could just sit a spell and listen some more. Thanks for visiting my blog. Glad I can read yours now.

  6. I love this post and hearing about Nannie’s wisdom. Thank you.

  7. Lovely story, Stuart. Your Nannie sounds like a wise woman, indeed. And you certainly learned that lesson well.

  8. Serins

    Beautiful and inspirational post. 🙂

  9. A very refreshing anecdote, Stuart. Thank you for sharing it!

  10. Wow! I really enjoyed that…reminded me of my Grandma; so much wisdom and yet a certain simplicity. Thank you for sharing with me…made me feel all warm inside. Grandma wit, nothing compares…

  11. Wow, that was great! Very inspiring. I’ll have to keep this tucked away in my mind as I plod along through school

  12. jake stark

    would just like say this post was just the right thing to read. I suppose after a while we cant see the wood for the trees and its good to just take a step back and enjoy whats there.

    thanks for following my blog as well.

  13. Deb

    What a great story and lesson…you should do a book of Nannieisms…thanks for sharing! 🙂

  14. Lovely story! Thanks for sharing Nannie, or Nana as we called ours, wisdom!

  15. I can relate. . .I’m going through a move myself!

  16. Great read and thanks for the follow!

  17. inesb

    This made me feel so much better! Thank you for this great story!

  18. Thank you for the following. Love this story! Hope to be back soon to read more.

  19. lovely story, enjoyed reading it

  20. Thank you for the following! This reminds me of a story about the summer of never ending zuccihinis that I am now eager to write!

  21. Hey i really like the way you write, the narrative style really draws you in.
    Enjoyed reading it!

  22. parentingalive

    Stu, I just had to come and find out what you’re all about. I enjoyed reading your blog and just wanted to say thank you for reading mine. You’re always the first to like one of my posts. I’m not the least bit surprised to see you have such a lovely following here. Your heart comes through in your eager willingness to acknowledge my bravery again and again. I loved this story and that adage of look how far you’ve come, not how far you have left to go has been one that has really pulled me through the last 6 years of 21 deaths, being married to an addict and losing everything. Sometimes, I forget how far I’ve come because I get so lost in the “doingness” of now. Sometimes, I need to go back and re-read all the longings of my heart from years ago to remember just how blessed I am and how much I ached for exactly what I have now for so many years. I hope you’ll keep reading my story, and I yours, so we can continue to connect on this journey! Thanks again for all your support!!!! Really, I mean it, from the bottom of my heart.

    • I thank you for that! You’re right about getting lost in the doingness of now sometimes. I’m not sure what good any of our efforts are if we don’t stop now and then and ponder all we’ve done and accomplished. Always do more, but don’t forget what’s already been done! Thank you again, very much.

  23. Definitely a message to remember – great story.

  24. niharikabapna

    Such a lovely, lovely piece of writing. It actually breaks my heart.

    Because now having read this, I will not be able to keep myself from reading all your previous posts and I have to catch up with two years worth of writing!!

    I am very sure it is going to be worth it, so I must begin soon 🙂

  25. Reading this beautifully written story I’m so very honoured you chose to follow my blog. Thank you. And I too had a ‘nanna’ like yours, but she set her crops in English soil and tomatoes like the feel of the sun!

  26. This is a lesson we all need in life. We are always tempted to look at circumstances around us without seeing the bigger picture. Thank you for reminding me of this truth.

  27. Welcome to our blogger family! I’m glad you’ve joined us. And thanks for your Like, too. I hope you feel free to react as you see fit. I’m happy you’re following!

  28. Stuart I love the way you write. It really drew me in to the story you were telling and I could visualise you helping Nannie, we are so blessed to have known these wonderful matriarchs who pass on their knowledge and Nannie-isms to younger generations. Congratulations on such an inspirational post

  29. What a ripe story! Loved it. Thanks for visiting me and, especially after reading, I will continue to visit you.

  30. cat5evie

    Absolutely wonderful story. Reminds me of the old days of blogging, and makes me happy to be back amongst you. We are lucky to have a good friend who’s a gardner and storyteller. As long as I refresh his coffee cup, Harold will go on with his story. And he always brings fresh veggies from his garden for me. Nice. Very nice. p.s. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  31. parttimeblogger620

    Reblogged this on parttimeblogger620.

  32. parttimeblogger620

    That is a great philosophy to approach life with! I’ve only hit on something similar myself, it started with an admission… ‘I am not that clever’. For the longest time I had insulated myself with a few facts, the odd piece of trivia… admitting this lack of knowledge has made me more fearless in reading more, thinking more, challenging more. Plus drawing, something I could never stick to because I didn’t master it straight away.

    Now I only have to look at how far I’ve come, and I can see that it’s the going that is important, not the end.


  33. kdrose1

    What lovely posts. I love the “homespun” feel of some of them. FYI I went to school in Richmond (VCU) and now also live in NOVA. : )

  34. I still have a long way to go but now I choose to be grateful for how far I have come. Thank you for the following

  35. As the goosebumps crawl up my skin, an overwhelming appreciation sets in…some say goosebumps happen when a spirit of a dead ancestor passes by us. I try not to analyze it anymore, but say “thanks” as I look back at how far I’ve come…wonderful story. – LaVancia

  36. Wonderful story. It’s so true that you have to look at how far you’ve come instead of focusing on the negative… I have to remind myself that all the time.

  37. I am of the thought that this kind of story reaches you when you need it, and I needed it today 🙂 Very insightful. Thanks for sharing.

  38. Great story! Reminded me of growing up in the hills of Kentucky and all of the rows of tomatoes I planted or gathered or watered and always looking ahead at how much farther I had to go. In my book, To Come and Go Like Magic, there is a chapter about summer planting and the kids play a game called “Whistling in Africa” to keep from being bored. It’s all about where one might wish to be instead of setting out tomato plants. 🙂

  39. riverwaters


  40. riverwaters

    These would make great audio stories!

  41. Wow! I need this👉🏻 “Sometimes you need to look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.” Thank you:) #reblogged #shared 😊

  42. What great writing style. Really involving.
    Also, Thanks you for the follow. I’m just starting out, so feeling my way in the dark a bit.

  43. Great post; it definitely gave me some good food for thought.

  44. jiaxuan29

    Thank you so much for following my blog . have a great day ! x

  45. Reblogged this on Covey View and commented:
    Stuart tells a story with a moral. Enjoy!

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