Study Guide

Seedfolks Family

By Paul Fleischman

Family

All his life in Vietnam my father had been a farmer. Here our apartment house had no yard. But in that vacant lot he would see me. He would watch my beans break ground and spread, and would notice with pleasure their pods growing plump. He would see my patience and my hard work. I would show him that I could raise plants, as he had. I would show him that I was his daughter. (1.7)

If there's one thing Kim wants, it's a relationship with her dad. Growing her lima beans gives her a feeling that she can have a connection with him that stretches beyond the grave.

But my father, he worked all day in a kitchen with Mexicans and Salvadorans. His English was worse than a kindergartner's. He would only buy food at the bodega down the block. Outside of there he lowered his eyes and tried to get by on mumbles and smiles. He didn't want strangers to hear his mistakes. So he used me to make phone calls and to talk to the landlady and to buy things in stores where you had to use English. He got younger. I got older.

Then my younger brothers and mother and Tío Juan, her uncle, came north and joined us. Tío Juan was the oldest man in his pueblo. But her he became a little baby. He'd been a farmer, but here he couldn't work. (4.3-4)

Gonzalo's role in his family changes a lot when he moves from Guatemala to the United States. Being one of the only family members who speaks English means he needs to grow up pretty fast.

Watching him carefully sprinkling them into the troughs he'd made, I realized that I didn't know anything about growing food and that he knew everything. I stared at his busy fingers, then his eyes. They were focused, not far-away or confused. He'd changed from a baby back into a man. (4.9)

This garden sure is making waves in Gonzalo's family. When our man Gonzalo began helping Tío Juan start a plot in the community garden, he might not have realized what a big deal it would be. But check out how much Tío Juan transforms. Plus, we're pretty sure Gonzalo's relationship with Tío Juan will never be the same again.

Mama believed in doctors, but not Granny. Not even if they were black. No, ma'am. I grew up in her house, back in Atlanta. She drank down a big cup of goldenrod tea every morning with a nutmeg floating in it, and declared she didn't need no other medicine. […]

I was thinking about her one day, walking home from the grocery store on Gibb Street. Then I came to the vacant lot and saw three people in different parts of it. I thought maybe they were looking for money. Turned out they had shovels, not metal detectors. When I saw they had little gardens going, I said to myself, "I believe I'll plant me a patch of goldenrod right here." (5.1-2)

Leona's grandmother definitely has a mind of her own, and it looks like Leona takes after her granny, because she's pretty feisty herself. Keep an eye out, because that goldenrod shows up in other parts of the book, too. (Hint: chapter 11.)

"Actually, madam, only this very first area here is ours," he said. […] "The others we have planted at the request of relatives who have no tools or who live too far." [...]

He pointed at the closest squares of land. "My brother Antoine. My auntie, Anne-Marie."
My eyes opened wide. They both lived in Haiti. I stared at my father, but he just kept smiling. His finger pointed farther to the left. "My Uncle Philippe." He lived in New York. "My wife's father." He died last year. "And her sister." My mother didn't have any sisters. I looked at my father's smiling face. I'd never watched an adult lie before. (7.8, 10-11)

At first, it seems pretty sweet that Virgil's dad is planting lettuce for the whole family. But soon, we learn that Virgil's dad is telling a lie. And a pretty elaborate one at that. In fact, the lie becomes bigger with each piece Virgil's dad adds to the story. What gives? And does this lie affect Virgil's relationship with his pops?

I quick go to store. Buy three funnels to make easier filling containers. I put one by each garbage can. That day I see man use my funnel. Then woman. Then many people. Feel very glad inside. Feel part of garden. Almost like family. (8.7)

Sae Young doesn't have any family left in Cleveland, but the community garden gets her feeling like she has close relationships again. She even compares the feeling of being part of the garden to being part of a family. What do you think: can the garden ever live up to her previous family?

She had a serious thing for tomatoes. […] Always talking about eating 'em out of her aunt's garden when she was a kid and how she wanted to grow 'em someday. (9.4)

Curtis is trying to impress his ex-girlfriend, Lateesha, and she's got a hankering for tomatoes. For Lateesha, tomatoes are all about family. When she eats one, it has her thinking about her aunt and all their good times when she was a kid. Now those are some powerful tomatoes.

Yet we were all subject to the same weather and pests, the same neighborhood, and the same parental emotions toward our plants. (10.8)

Nora and Mr. Myles are getting really into their plants in the garden. Check out how Nora describes their relationship with the plants as "parental." Doesn't it remind you of how Virgil says he is a "mother" (7.15) to his lettuce? Do you think Nora and Virgil have similar relationships with their vegetation? What about the rest of the characters?

When the eggplants appeared in August they were pale purple, a strange and eerie shade. When my wife would bring our little son, he was forever wanting to pick them. (12.3)

Amir seems to have the green thumb in his family, but his son definitely gets in on the action, too. It's kind of bittersweet, don't you think? After all, he doesn't get to see his son very often, but when he does, it's majorly special.

My great-grandparents walked all the way from Louisiana to Colorado. That was in 1859. They were both freed slaves and they wanted to get good and far from cotton-growing country. They went over the mountains, just to be safe, and homesteaded along the Gunnison River. Which is how my grandfather and my father and my sisters and I all came to be born there, the first black family in the whole county. My father called them our Seedfolks, because they were the first of our family there. (13.1)

It's pretty impressive how Florence can trace her family history way back to 1859. And it sounds to us like our gal feels a connection with her great-grandparents because she grew up in Colorado, the very same place that they moved to so many years ago. Now that she's in Cleveland, do you think she still feels connected to her family? Are there any hints in the chapter about how she keeps in touch with her family?