Back when I lived in Virginia, back before Iowa was even a consideration, back even before I was married (because I was, once), my ex-husband moved into a squat apartment building with a distinct lack of personality just two blocks from the Clarendon Metro Station. He asked me to marry him in that very same apartment, and yet I still had positively no attachment to it when he moved out of there. As far as shelter goes, it was perfectly adequate. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
The apartment building might have left something to be desired, but just across the street was a fascinating house, rambling and big, sprawling across its own property in a comfortable way, and, in front of the house, there was a tremendous (at least for an urban lot) greenhouse.
It was the original home of DeBaggio’s Herb Farm, a true Mom-and-Pop operation run by Tom and Joyce DeBaggio. I did a little research at the time, and discovered that the DeBaggios had opened a larger nursery out in Chantilly, Virginia, but back then, you could still go into their yard and buy a six-pack of basil, or oregano, or any other number of herbs or other seedlings that they sold.
I never went in. I had no idea what I would do with a seedling, besides kill it. But even though I was not yet a gardener, I always walked by the DeBaggio’s house as if it were a church. On the right day, you could smell the greenness of the herbs, that moist, dirty (and I mean that in the best kind of way) scent that made it all the way to the sidewalk.
“I should buy some basil,” I told my ex-husband. “I like basil.”
But I didn’t buy anything. I was afraid I’d kill whatever I’d buy, and I didn’t have a pot, and I didn’t have dirt or know where to buy dirt, and I didn’t have a spade. So I just walked by, and bowed my head, and wished I was worthy.
Last night, as I bustled around the house folding laundry and packing a lunch for today, I turned on a podcast that had been sitting on my iPod since May 23. I hadn’t even looked at the full title in iTunes or on the iPod, but remembered catching a glimpse of “Revisiting Tom DeBaggio…” and thinking that the name sounded familiar and that I should make a point of listening to it.
It was just seconds into the broadcast before I realized what I was hearing, that this was the same Tom DeBaggio who, with his wife, lovingly tended to that church of herbs that I had so long ago wished I could enter. I sat down on my bed, stunned, listening to his wife talk about his brave fight with Alzheimer’s and listening to him talk about it himself. For a second, I could have been there, back on that street, back in that neighborhood that I know so well—from living there, from eating there, from singing just around the corner with my band back in the day.
And just tonight, as I set out to write this post, I went to the NPR site to look for the proper link to the podcast, in case there are those who want to check it out. It came out as part of the Driveway Moments podcast series, which are stories that listeners recommend because they heard them and stayed in their cars until the story was over. This one? Recommended by a listener in Iowa. In Eastern Iowa. One who listens to the same NPR station that I do.
So, thank you, Julie, wherever you are out here in this part of the Midwest. Because while Tom DeBaggio’s memories are slipping away from him, your recommendation allowed me to stop for a minute, and to revisit memories of my own and marvel at the spider web of connections that tie us all together, and to send some good thoughts, like seeds, in the direction of him and his wife and family.