May 16: New Plot

   I am walking through rows of radishes and kale in the two-acre refugee garden at the corner of 39th Avenue and Dunlap, and my tour guide, a nice man who works at the church across the street, is talking about hoeing and irrigation and reclaiming the land. But what I am thinking is “Warning! Warning, Will Robinson! Danger!”

          For this guy, who’s generously agreed to show me around, the plot of land we’re hiking through is an opportunity for refugee families to support themselves by growing produce. For me, it’s the place where I used to play Lost in Space with the neighborhood kids back in the 1960s.

          I was always The Robot.

          This land, owned by the Cross-Connection International Fellowship Church, was a vacant lot since before my parents built the house around the corner in 1966—the house where I grew up, and where Mom and Dad still live. Each morning, as I drive past on my way to take care of my parents, I always glance over at the vacant lot and remember what it felt like to be a seven-year-old, stranded on the moon with Angela Cartwright and Debby the Bloop because our spaceship had once again malfunctioned.

          And a couple of years ago, I nearly wrecked my car as I drove past. There was a fence going up around the lot that had been a wasteland since before I could remember. A few days later, a crew of men was leveling the ground, and about a week after that, a giant sign was erected, announcing the Refugee Community Training Garden. My former extraterrestrial playground was finally becoming something real: an opportunity for ten refugee families from Bhutan and Burma to benefit from working a plot of land, eating and selling the vegetables they grew there.

         The refugees, sponsored by the International Rescue Committee, are working toward American citizenship in a program that resettles families and provides them with the education and support they need to acclimate to their new home. It seems fitting, somehow. After all, the Robinsons were also a displaced family, learning to cope in a foreign place that wasn’t always welcoming. And while June Lockhart did have that wild contraption that washed and folded her laundry for her, she and her husband and kids did have to grow their own vegetables.

In one episode of Lost in Space, which we kids often reenacted, the vegetables grew huge and came to life and—led by a giant talking carrot—began, um, stalking the Robinson clan.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen to the nice people from Bhutan.

This essay was published by me, in longer form, in Phoenix New Times in June of 2011.

Thing I Hate Today: Forgetting to make my husband’s lunch before he leaves for work

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