Sept-U, in concept, is a metaphor for intellectual maturity and represents an ambitious quest on behalf of posterity. September University, the book, is a call to action, a social forecast, and above all a passionate argument that a bright future depends upon the experiential wisdom of aging citizens.
When I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s, vegetable gardens were ubiquitous. Indeed, victory gardens were encouraged in both world wars, and although I was too young to perceive an association with patriotism and gardening, it helps explain the enthusiasm for gardening I witnessed among adults when I was a child. I have clear memories of the custom of sharing food and of a time when neighbors would come for a visit bringing bushel baskets of fresh produce. My guess would be that this is still a frequent occurrence in many parts of the country today, and yet, for the most part, these customs seem to have been lost to the lifestyles of modernity and urbanization.
My maternal grandparents usually had a garden, but during the times when they didn’t, they would still purchase their produce from nearby farms. They would then spend several days each spring and fall canning a vast assortment of fruits and vegetables. Their pantry was seldom stocked with less than a year’s worth of food. Of course, people still do this, but the tradition is not nearly as common as it used to be.Increasingly I wish that weren’t the case. Although it would seem we have gained from the enormous availability of food in the modern-day supermarket, there is still something lost—something important and something for which finding a suitable substitute seems difficult. Vegetable gardens engender a sense of community in a way that binds us to the land and to one another at the same time.
Moreover, the care and effort required for growing and preparing food for storage is rewarded with an appreciation for the precarious nature of our physical environment and the degree to which we are dependent upon the biological requirements for life. At a deeper level lies an ethos of sharing because most gardens produce more than one family can consume while the produce is still fresh. For many years my grandparents lived in Oklahoma while my family lived in Texas. We would travel several times a year to visit my grandparents, and without fail, when we prepared to leave and return home, we were inundated with food from my grandparents’ pantry. Thinking about this practice many years later, I realized this gesture of showering family members with the fruits of your labor was an overt expression of affection.
My grandparents, like so many others of their Victorian generation, were not much for expressing affection verbally, but when I compare their customs to those of the present day, I prefer the old ways. But for a few changes in lifestyle, what’s to keep us from sharing as our grandparents once did? After all, we reap what we sow.