Cher is 73 now. She’s had both hips replaced – her left hip twice – and she is still working on the flexibility in her new right knee. She showed me how deeply she can squat, which is important for two activities that she loves: gardening and surfing.
I met Cher and her husband Steve close to 30 years ago, in the late 1990s, when I was in college at Point Loma Nazarene University because we surfed the same area. I also liked writing so I wrote a profile of Cher for SURFER magazine. And Steve is a surfboard shaper. At the time, I made my living shaping surfboards so I tried to hang out with Steve and glean wisdom in that arena from him, and he was always generous with this college kid.
We have stayed in touch even though I moved out of California for a while and I no longer make surfboards, but yesterday I had stopped by their house to say hello for the first time in a handful of years. Steve was gone, either surfing or shaping, but Cher gave me a tour of her vegetable garden.
It is about 10 feet by 12 feet with a fence in the middle for climbing plants, like peas and beans. We ate a few peas first. Then Cher pointed out the beets, the broccoli, the onions, an Early Girl tomato plant that was still ripening fruit through winter. She had just put in a few fava bean plants near an overwintering cherry tomato.
“I love fava beans. They’re so vigorous and pretty,” I said.
“This is my first time growing them,” said Cher.
“They make these pretty black and white flowers.”
“I love the flowers on the pea plants,” said Cher.
“Thank you, peas,” said Cher. “Thank you.” She was thanking them for the delicious pods we had just taken from them.
She showed me the pepper plants. An Anaheim plant was creeping horizontally and Cher said it was acting like a banyan tree.
There was more in this plot of vegetables: some garlic, some Bibb lettuce. Cher noted that the lettuces were all volunteers from a Bibb lettuce plant she had allowed to go to seed. They were popping up in the surrounding lawn, and she would dig them out and transplant them back into the garden plot. Then I noticed lettuce seedlings among the grass.
“It’s your lettuce nursery,” I said.
We had gone full circle now, around the garden’s perimeter, and we were back at the peas and broccoli. She had already harvested the central head from these broccoli plants and now they were providing side shoots.
“After the rain, they appeared so fast. You can try one. They’re called ‘Sweet Stem’,” said Cher.
I picked one and ate it and the stem was indeed sweet and tender, not stringy at all like some broccoli stems can be.
“Thank you, broccoli,” said Cher, pointing to the plant. “Thank you.”
Cher told me about her friend George’s advice on growing broccoli, which was to put on her reading glasses and check the leaves of the plants when they were young in order to squish any aphids or cabbage loopers. She didn’t like to do that, but George insisted that she had to. So she did.
George is a fellow surfer, surfboard shaper, and gardener who lives in Australia. Steve and Cher chat with him on the phone most Saturday evenings about their shared interests.
Cher and I got to talking about surfing for a moment. Her knee is coming along well but she still only surfs “princess” waves these days; that’s a wave that is no taller than her.
She recounted a princess wave that she rode recently where she bellied the take off and then stood up as the wave began to run on the inside reef. She trimmed and did some “fish weaving” and all felt great, knee and hips, her “bits and parts” she calls the metal and ceramic pieces that are now incorporated into her body.
Her husband Steve shaped her a new board recently, which was on display in the house when I had entered. Cher is an artist. Early on, she embraced digital painting and wrote a popular book on the subject. On her new surfboard though, she had hand-painted three dolphins.
“George has been saved in the water by dolphins,” she said. So she painted the dolphins with their friend George in mind. Also, there are three dolphins, and they’re swimming toward the nose of the board where there is a star. The three dolphins represent the holy trinity swimming toward the light.
“I ride a wave for George sometimes, and then I tell him about it on the phone later,” said Cher. “And I ride waves for other friends, some of whom are no longer with us. I call them ‘prayer’ waves.”
“I have never heard of doing that,” I said. “I love the idea.”
“I used to do it for Rell when she was battling cancer. We would talk about the energy that is a wave and how it had travelled so far. If it’s long period, then it travelled from the other side of the ocean, thousands of miles. And we’re just so grateful. And if I can, I’ll ride it all the way to the sand.”
I am younger, and my body works better than Cher’s, but she still surfs better than me because she has a better attitude. My vegetable garden is bigger than Cher’s, but hers is superior because she appreciates it more.
The beautiful thing is though, that someday I can surf as well as Cher and my vegetable garden can be as good as hers if I keep learning from her how to be more grateful for whatever I can do and whatever I can grow.