Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dirt Clods, Green Beans, and Potatoes

Daddy always had a big garden.  He really had two gardens.  The small one was around 50 feet long and 15 feet wide.  It was near the house on the other side of the cherry trees.  The big garden was several times bigger and was down past the barn and pasture.  In the big garden  he grew corn mostly but also lots of rows green beans, potatoes, field peas and whatever else struck his fancy.

Daddy was a hard worker but he could not keep up when it came time to plant or harvest.  That meant that everyone helped. My sisters and our grandma were the farm hands. Mama seldom worked in the garden although she was kept busy putting the produce up for the winter.  In the spring we walked along the rows dropping bean seeds, okra, butter peas and pieces of potato and then going back with a hoe to cover whatever we were planting. Cucumbers, squash and melons were planted in little hills.   We set out tomato plants, green peppers, and cabbages. We put little newspaper tents on the transplants to shield them from the sun until they were able to get established.  It was hard to water anything way down in the big garden.  Daddy put old milk cans full of water on the back of the wagon and we dipped the water out  of them to give each little plant a drink.  My granddaddy had at some point in his farming career sold milk to a local dairy and there were still several of the old metal milk cans on our property.  Daddy seldom threw anything away.  He just knew it would come in handy one day.  Later on Daddy would collect plastic milk jugs and fill them with water.  He would put a small hole in the bottom of the jug  to slowly water his tender young plants until they established a strong enough root system to make it.

Amazingly, Daddy seldom lost any of his plants regardless of the weather.  He didn't appear to be a master gardener and he seldom discussed his way of doing things.  He was incredibly knowledgeable about gardening but he had such an off hand way of handling himself that it just seemed natural that he produced huge crops without a lot of fanfare.  Someone with his skill today would be on You Tube giving tips on gardening success.  Daddy grew up farming as did so many of the people of his day.  Knowledge of the "dirt" came as natural as breathing to them.

 It was fun to find a ripe cantaloupe or a juicy watermelon. The watermelons were put in a big round tin wash tub that was filled with the cold well water.  When the melon cooled, it was cut into sections for us to eat.  We ate watermelon outside without utensils.  Juice dripped down our faces and arms and we spit seeds as we dug into the melon.  There was nothing civilized about it.

I liked gathering the tomatoes, peppers, and squash.   Most of it to had to be tended to every day. That kind of picking was fast and it didn't require a lot of tedious work.  Homegrown sun ripened  red tomatoes that are cut thick and made into sandwiches on fresh soft white bread are one of the world's best delicacies.

Pulling corn could be scratchy but there was always fun to be had in a stand of corn.  My sisters and I played a kind of tactical warfare in the cornfield.  We threw small hard dirt clods at each other and hid between the rows trying to keep from being clobbered.  I would still enjoy a good game of "dirt clods in the cornfield".  Nothing was better than corn on the cob that was shucked and thrown in the hot water while it was still fresh.  It was quite a feast salted and slathered in butter. Corn turns starchy the longer it is left.  Fresh from the stalk it is sugar sweet and tender.

Daddy planted long multiple rows of green beans.  Mama canned hundreds of jars of green beans and it seemed that we had them at every meal. It would not have surprised me to find them on the breakfast table next to the scrambled eggs and grits.  When it came time to pick, everyone was given the privilege.  It was a sweaty and back breaking chore to bend over a row of beans even as a child.  It was my least favorite gardening chore, probably because Daddy did not practice moderation in his planting of green beans.  We each got our own extremely long row and a brown paper sack.  The brown paper grocery sack was filled up and completely maxed out by the time we finished our row.  Then after picking, we had a party.  It was a green bean stringing and breaking party.

One of my favorite chores was picking up new potatoes.  After the vines had died, Daddy would take the tractor down the rows and dig up the potatoes.  Sometimes the tractor plow would slice through some of the potatoes.  Those we separated and used first.  The plow turned over the dirt and it gave off a wonderful aroma.  I love the smell of good dirt.  The dirt was slightly moist and cool.  We would walk barefoot in it and pick up the potatoes in bushel baskets.  When our basket was full, we dumped it in the back of the wagon.  We would work until almost dark and then Daddy would pull the wagon to the house with his Allis Chalmers tractor.  We would sit on the wagon as it bumped its way back to the house with our red clay streaked legs and feet swinging from the sides of the wagon.

Daddy grew food so that we could survive.  I don't think he knew that he was teaching us to work hard and to persevere.  Daddy didn't know what kind of troubles we would face as adults.  He didn't know that all of that sweat, slapping bugs and coming up from the fields dead tired was really building a backbone in us.   We learned to find small pleasures and fun in our work.  The only time we were ever paid was on rare occasions when our grandma would give us a dollar that she pulled out of her apron pocket but  mostly we experienced the reward of our work  giving us great tasting food.  Our work was meaningful. Mama and Daddy really needed our help to bring in the produce.

Those days were good.  We weren't always overjoyed when we were told that we needed to go work in the field, but it is still rewarding me today with a thousand life lessons and a good home ripened tomato is still way up there on the list as being one of the best foods in the world.

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