This time of year the home folks always used to put their gardens out. The soil would be warming up after a long winter, and usually after we gassed the tobacco seed beds, we would get the plow and disc out and work the garden patch. When the clods of dirt were the right texture, we would take an old cultivator and make a long row where we’d plant the first things: onion sets, cabbage plants, radishes, and, when the signs were right and we were close to Good Friday, preferably ON Good Friday, we’d drop the taters. Potatoes were important to our lives.
My mother was buried alive in the potato box out in the soft dirt in the garage floor by her brothers. They had an impromptu funeral for her and put her in the ground. They were putting the dirt on top of the box when they were discovered by their mother who flew into them and got my mother out just in time. Perhaps this is why one February the farmhand’s wife, Mrs Margaret Kerns, came flying into the kitchen to report: “Mrs Smith! Mrs Smith! Your young’uns are down in the creek, and it’s winter!” Mammaw just kept doing what she was doing and calmly said: “You can’t kill my young’uns.”
Well, the garden spot was a favorite place. It sat up on the hill across the road from the homeplace. It was once the site of the family’s home, a two-story log house built for Aunt Polly Akard. It had a lean-to kitchen wing built on it that had old solid wood doors and home-made glass windows. When the new house was built, the kitchen wing was rolled on logs across the road and built onto the back of the newer home. This whole section was dismantled, rearranged, and built on the front of the house when the highway was built in the back around 1943. All this made for a garden spot that was ancient, deeply rich soil, and well-cultivated.
Peas and carrots, beans and corn were added to the rows. Soon the nearly quarter of an acre was producing meals. Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkins (and my favorite, cushaws), and a little row of okra. Summertime meals often consisted of creamed peas with new potatoes, a “mess” of fried okra, and maybe a little left-over roast beef, grown in the pasture among the herd. Pappaw used to love to talk about what all was on the table that came from the land.
After May 15th you could go barefooted and I loved to run the rows of the garden, feeling the warm, loose soil beneath my feet. This beloved place became our sustenance. It was a gift of God.
I’ll never forget going down to the creek and cutting reeds from the bamboo-like patch down near the river, bringing them back and “staking” the vining beans. I miss those days. We would have several little pyramid-like frames going up the bean row, and sometimes squash would grow beneath them. Only the corn would grow higher than the staked beans.
When I asked Uncle Conrad a few years ago what he could tell my generation about what we needed to know in case another Depression was going to come, his reply was simple: “Put something in the ground.” That was his way of saying we need to grow our own food. Good idea. You plow the ground and plant the seed, and God gives the growth. That’s a good lesson for people today. One we’d do well to heed.