From June 19, 2013
When I was young, we lived in Texas next door to my Mammaw. She had a pasture behind her house with cows and a chicken coop in her back yard. On the other side of us was our neighbors big “truck garden”. They raised vegetables to sell. My sister and I played with the little boy who lived there and we would cut through the rows of tall corn going back and forth between our houses. It was a wonderful, comforting childhood.
When my father’s job transferred us to the desert of Utah, where he worked at a lab that made rocket fuel for NASA, I thought we’d left all that behind. But, I was wrong.
In Utah’s tightly cloistered community of ranchers, there was no housing available for the influx of “outsiders” that invaded their turf, so we had to live in a trailer court for awhile – where my Mother planted rows and rows of tall zinnias in our dirt “yard”. It’s still my favorite flower!
Farmers there grew crops of hay and sugar beets. Ranchers raised cows and sheep and the mountainsides were covered with fruit orchards. In the summer, girls earned spending money by picking cherries while boys baled hay.
Later, when we got our own place, my Mother would escape into her vegetable garden as soon as she got off work and supper was done. We didn’t bother her when she was out there plucking weeds and hoeing. When it became too dark to see, she would come in bringing a couple of tomatoes or some squash.
On Saturdays, we rode our bikes along the dirt road to the cemetery armed with a paper grocery bag to fill with wild asparagus that grew along the sides of the irrigation ditches. When we came home, my Mother would steam it and serve it with a squeeze from a lemon.
In those days everyone could connect their food to the land. Our eggs were delivered in big cardboard canisters by Mr. Bott and our milk came from a local Dairy. Fresh vegetables could be bought from Leona Yagi. We canned peaches from Nielson’s Fruit Stand. Old Mrs. Bisek paid the neighborhood kids 25 cents a pail for dandelions that she turned into wine – which she would later give as gifts to our parents at Christmas. Summer in a jar!
Everyone rented a meat locker in town. It worked like this: Families would purchase a cow or pig (sometimes sheep) from a farmer and it would be butchered for you. They’d cut it up any way you wanted- chops, roasts or ground up. Then you stored the meat in your locker along with any deer or ducks you’d shot during season, or any fish you’d caught. Once a week Dad would go to the meat locker and pick up whatever Mother had written out on a list for cooking. We all knew where our food came from.
Our Mother worked and so we ate store-bought bread, but the majority of our Mormon neighbor ladies baked their own. In the summer, we used to hang around Bartley Hansen’s house on baking day so we could watch his mother slide pans of fresh bread out of the oven. The smell was heavenly! She would cut up a hot loaf, smear it with butter and use it to chase the kids outside. I envied him at school as he bit into his homemade sandwiches while I “suffered” through a purchased “hot lunch”.
Decades later, when my husband and I bought our place here in Virginia, we planted a garden every year. It was so much fun to watch the plants come up and see our daughter toddling about with her little bare feet and straw hat “helping” us. It was another Eden.
Once, while I was busy fixing supper, I sent my 4 year old outside with a basket and instructions to pick 2 cucumbers and some cherry tomatoes. When some time had passed and she hadn’t returned, I went out to the garden to see what had happened. I found her leaning against the garden bench chewing a tremendous mouthful of cherry tomatoes. In her basket was one lone cucumber with several bites taken out of it corncob-style. Somewhere along the way she had forgotten her purpose was to gather and simply began to eat.
I could never get enough peas together to make a pot because she at them raw. Same way with the strawberries! But, who could blame her? One year we planted a wheelbarrow full of pumpkins, another year a row of cotton, and the next a patch of peanuts just to see it.
We grew old favorites like tomatoes and squash and discovered new ones like kale and peppers. I planted Zinnias for color and Sweet Basil for smell. We fostered huge stripped caterpillars on the parsley and provided soft ground for turtles to lay eggs. Birds loved our Sunflowers.
I’m hoping that all these beautiful memories of gardens and people and community (though my own memories and not yours) will entice you into wanting to be a part of something similar with Central Library’s Bookworm Garden project.
You may recall our big planting day at Central last October with volunteers from the Master Gardeners as well as other individuals?
We got the shrubs in, planted some vegetables and herbs on the back patio and were able to have some gardening programs for the children. Since then we’ve had some mulch and woodchips delivered, and we have a group of Boy Scouts coming in to work on some building projects with us. We also have some Book Garden signposts being made by a volunteer.
What we need is for interested groups to come in and “adopt” a portion of the garden to claim as their own – planting and maintaining vegetables, herbs and flowers. From this we hope to develop relationships that will allow us to sponsor some garden-related programs and activities for patrons.
Surely, there are many talented people out there who love nature and are interested in bees, butterflies and birds as well as plants and flowers – and who wouldn’t mind sharing their expertise! If you have any thoughts along those lines, please don’t hesitate to call (757) 410-7121 or email firstname.lastname@example.org