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Boomer’s Journal: A better home and garden

Gardening and the word “hobby” were not synonymous in my world when I grew up on the farm. I don’t think it was in mother’s world either. Oh, she wanted a beautiful garden alright, and I think she might have even wanted it to be a hobby. I really think she did. She just hoped it would be like the ones she saw in the spring and summer issues of her one annual magazine subscription, Better Homes and Gardens.

Alas, mother’s gardening was not picture perfect.

This is my dad’s individual salt dispenser for eating green onions out of the garden and his vinegar decanter for fresh garden lettuce. I treasure these for the memories…they were always on our summer table, next to his dinner plate. Contributed photo

First there was the rhubarb. It was in a patch by the road, next to the driveway, leading out to the pasture. The rhubarb patch was randomly “out there,” all by its lonesome self. Don’t get me wrong, our rhubarb was bountiful and juicy, making the best sauce and pies in the world. The crop was so steady that there was always a pot of sauce cooking on the stove and a pie in the oven. We downed it like there was no tomorrow. It just wasn’t a “garden” so to speak.

And so, while mother managed the rhubarb, dad gave in to providing a spot for her real garden, you know, the one she dreamed of having like the Better Homes and Gardens magazine pictures. THIS garden was out behind the woods for awhile. It was located right along the cow path in a low, wet spot where you couldn’t plant anything. This spot didn’t get much sunlight, but it sure attracted a lot of flies and mosquitoes. We all avoided that “garden” like the plague. THAT garden didn’t get a lot of attention. Strawberries became a large part of that garden, until, alas, they dried up, or were too wet, or were sucked dry because of the weeds, mosquitoes and various bugs. Whatever the case may be, by the time the weeds took over mom’s Better Homes and Gardens garden out behind the woods, it had come to a grateful end. Nothing was ever planted in that little spot in the woods after the strawberry patch was gone, but I continued to swat flies and mosquitoes while walking on the path next to it while bringing the cows home to milk.

But the little garden behind the woods wasn’t the end of the gardening on our farm. No sir.

As the strawberries met their demise, dad had found another fertile spot of dirt out in another field. It was smack dab in the hot sun. Dad had designated this plot of soil for green onions, leafy lettuce, radishes, potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets and squash. You know, the basics. (No cabbage, cauliflower or “other exotic produce” for my dad…).

The radishes, green onions and lettuce were the first to grow. At first, we made an effort to weed and keep the rows clean. It was kind of fun helping mom and dad stake out the rows, run the string down the rows, hoe and plant. I thought this little garden was actually pretty cute, until the weeds got out of hand. And as these delicacies grew, making the trek out to the field to pick the fruits of our labor became a daily routine. As a little girl it seemed like a mile away from civilization. New potatoes were delish and dad had his onions, radishes and fresh lettuce on the table every single day, and I was happy to oblige (I think). On the kitchen table he had his salt dish by his plate, his vinegar dispenser right next to it, and sugar bowl ready for the fresh pick of the day. I have to admit, it was good stuff, even for a little girl. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that not everyone put vinegar and sugar on their fresh leafy lettuce. I had no clue there was such a thing as “bought’n” salad dressing on the shelves at Nelson’s Store in Evansville.

Meanwhile, dad found a convenient little piece of soil for the sweet corn. Of course, it wasn’t anywhere near the little patch with onions and lettuce and other daily supplements. Eating-wise, buttered sweet corn season was the best, and as with other produce, it called for a daily trek to pick a dozen ears of corn, at the very least. In my mind, this garden had grown into about a two-mile walk from the house in the opposite direction of the onion-etc. patch. The season never seemed to last long enough, however, when mother searched her Better Homes and Gardens magazine for canning and freezing recipes (because that’s what we do, instead of using the tried and true recipe in the old wooden recipe box) she found a new way to freeze that corn, with real heavy cream, and boy, was that ever THE best, and the cream came right from our very own cows.

By this time the tomatoes were ripe and juicy. If they were picked a little green, they were lined up on the kitchen window sills. Dad kept his sugar bowl handy because that’s what was best on tomatoes.

“Nothing better than tomatoes straight out of the garden,” he’d say.

By mid-August mom relied on Nelson’s Store for crates and crates of peaches. Kept in the utility room at home, it was a treat to help ourselves to peaches any time of the day. However, if mom planned on canning any of them she had to keep restocking the supply.

And then there was the asparagus. Mother wasn’t quite sure where dad found it, but he brought it home from “out back in the woods” somewhere. I didn’t think of it as much of a delicacy until adulthood, but I do remember mother thinking she would outsmart dad and find the asparagus and cut it down to the ground. I guess she got sick of having it every night, it was so bountiful. And so, one afternoon she slyly whispered to me that she had found the asparagus patch and that she had “taken care of it.” She giggled when she said, “There won’t be asparagus for supper tonight!” Later that afternoon dad walked into the kitchen with that mischievous grin and a bunch of asparagus in his hands. Mom and I didn’t realize that there (apparently) was asparagus in more places than one. We laughed about it later as asparagus was on the table for supper that night…and several succeeding nights. The Better Homes and Gardens gardener had just been outsmarted by the farmer. Patience my dear, patience.

By August the beets were ready for the table, and just like sweet corn, there was nothing better than buttered beets. The beets were also ready for canning. It was all quite a production as we began the process of pickling beets. Purple fingers were commonplace at our place.

And just when the beets were ready, the cucumbers seemed to be ready. The tomatoes were ready. The crabapples were ready. Everything was ready. My mother, the Better Homes and Gardens housewife, was canning and freezing every day, and none of us were quite sure where all the gardens were. Or, what dad had actually planted, to be quite honest.

That’s not even counting the pie apples. Oh, we knew where they WERE, it’s just that those trees kept growing bigger and bigger every year along the driveway, and they kept giving more and more apples. The real trick was that they had to magically turn into dozens of pies for the freezer. And then, there were the potatoes and acorn squash (out in some field). We were filling gunny sacks and crates, and more crates and gunny sacks as we dug up potatoes and picked that scrumptious squash. The house and basement were turning into a produce plant. Gardening had taken over our life. Uffda.

Mother had her garden alright. She just didn’t realize that her Better Homes and Gardens magazine “garden” was, in reality, an extension of farming. I guess none of us realized it.

Except maybe dad.

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