By John Burton
MONMOUTH BEACH – There are times when a garden is more than a garden. It can be a symbol of love and memories.
Just talk to Nory Martinez of Spaulding Place.
Martinez decided to fill in her in-ground pool, which took up most of her small backyard. Her four daughters were grown and she didn’t want to continue with the necessary upkeep. So she transformed the pool area into what has now become a joy for her aging mother and father who live with Martinez.
“One of the things (her mother) really missed with moving into Monmouth Beach was not enough land for what she always enjoyed all of her life,” Martinez said. The space where the pool was has now been turned into the home of her mother’s garden.
Mercedes Martinez, 81, who is called Mami by family members, has a place where she can grow calabaza, a Latin American root vegetable, sort of in the pumpkin or squash family. The fruit of the vine can grow as big as 75 to 100 pounds – and they have grown that heavy in her garden, Martinez said.
Martinez is what she calls part of the sandwich generation. She is a baby boomer with four grown daughters and elderly parents who have moved in with her after her father Frank, “Papi,” Martinez, soon to be 91, became seriously ill in 2009.
Martinez is serving as her parents’ main caretaker.
The Martinez family is originally from Cuba. Frank first came to the United States in 1956 and settled in Newark, and worked a variety of jobs until he could send for his wife and two daughters in 1958.
Frank and Mercedes were eventually able to save up enough money to buy a home in Carteret in Middlesex County. It was a home with a pretty big piece of property, where Mercedes grew her calabaza and yucca, another root vegetable popular in Cuban dishes.
When the aging couple relocated to Monmouth Beach, Martinez said she could tell her mother missed her garden. When Martinez decided to fill in the backyard pool, she began to see the wheels turning as her mother watched the process.
The family bought their calabazas from Fine Fare supermarket in Long Branch and Mercedes started collecting the seeds until she could plant them.
Martinez’s parents’ Carteret garden had vegetable vines that made their way around the house. “The most gorgeous vines you would ever want to see” with splendid harvests, Martinez said.
In Monmouth Beach the plants are yielding a substantial crop. Her mother works the plot and her dad, though less able to get around, often helps out.
That is a gift from God for Martinez.
Martinez suspects her mother is thinking about watermelon next year; Mercedes told the family to save the seeds this summer.
“She has such a green thumb that I’m sure we’re going to have watermelon,” she said.