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Aug 30 2012

My Little Town 20120828: Dad’s Garden

Sorry to post late, but I got an emergency call from next door because The Little Girl had lost her bottle and The Girl was trying to get her to the bed so that she (The Girl) and I could visit.  I hope that everyone understands that important personal interactions are more important than blogging.  The Girl found her bottle, in an area that I suggested.  She and I make a good team.

Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

I have written about Dad gardening before, so I hope that these are new stories.  I think that at least most of them will be.  Dad did not garden as long as my grandmum did, but when she got too feeble to garden effectively Dad, who was retired by then, took over the chore.

Dad did not do things an a small way.  He just about tripled the area that Ma gardened and moved the garden from the north side of the driveway to the south because there was more room.  He bought a rear tine tiller from the former Mrs. Translator’s father and broke the entire space with it.

Dad was more experimental than Ma.  He would try new things every year, and this garden, which was on the main drag, was often sort of a local attraction because of its size and the often unusual things that he planted.

He would always plant tomatoes, okra, green beans (Kentucky Wonder, just like Ma), onions to eat as green onions, and often potatoes.  He never planted corn because he had a friend that grew corn commercially.  In a secret part of the farm that changed every year, they would plant a couple of acres of sweet corn and tell only their close friends about where the sweet corn was.  When it was ripe, they would call and say that it was time to come and get it.

I went with him on year and we got a couple of bushels of nice, fresh sweet corn.  We took it to my parents’ house and we shucked, silked, blanched, and froze it the same day.  The former Mrs. Translator and I ended up with around 120 full ears, so we had plenty of corn for a long time since half an ear of that size is plenty for a side.

During his tenure as gardener he happened to come with my mum and Ma to visit us when we lived east of Lauderdale, MS.  We had acreage there, and on some of that property grew the biggest, sweetest dewberries that I have ever seen.  It happened to be dewberry season when they visited, so we cooked a dewberry cobbler and cranked up a pot of home made vanilla ice cream.  Mmmmm!

Dad was so impressed by those dewberries that we went and dug up starts of the best berries and he took them home and planted them in his garden.  He finally ended up with two, say 100 foot rows (his garden might have a been a little longer) of dewberries and had more berries than he could use!  He pulled out a row and a half to plant other things the next year, but I do not know what took their place.

Dad always put his unusual things in the easternmost row, right on the street.  One year he planted several varieties of sunflowers and kids would always ask for one.  Dad loved little kids, until they got around seven or so, and was not selfish with his flowers.  One of the varieties that he planted were the seed rather than the ornamental kind, and had lots of sunflower seeds to roast and eat that year.  Dad loved seeds and nuts of all kinds.

One year he planted cotton in his show row.  That really got attention because in that part of the state cotton is no longer grown, whilst it was the number one cash crop during the Great Depression.  Old timers who remembered it would stop and look, and often Dad would get into conversations about old times.  Sometimes younger folks would stop just to find out what it was.  (That would not be the case in central and eastern Arkansas where cotton is grown on a huge scale).

Most of you who have read me write about Dad know that he was a salesman, and the primary skill that folks in sales have is to talk with people, make them feel important, and actually enjoy the conversations.  Dad genuinely liked to interact with people, so the garden brought him people with whom to talk.

I still do not know why people like green beans.  I never liked them, even though my mum and Ma cooked them southern style, with bacon, salt and pepper, and hot vinegar at the table.  I just never liked them in any way.  They always raised Kentucky Wonders and let the seeds get quite mature.  There is a logic for this, because green beans like you get at the store are quite immature and thus contain little protein.  Allowing them to get more mature increases the protein level, and Kentucky Wonders have the seedpod stay tender longer than most varieties.  That strain is excellent survival food, but you would starve for protein on Blue Lake beans from the can.

I almost forgot that he also always planted purple hull peas, actually not a real pea at all but rather a cowpea.  They are sort of like black eyed peas, but have a sweeter and more complex flavor.  I also always plant them every year, and have some to pick tomorrow or so.

Of all the things that he grew, Dad was most possessive of his okra.  In that part of the country, I would guess that 95%+ of okra was sliced, breaded with corn meal, salt, and pepper and then fried in bacon grease until crisp and brown.  I do the same thing, but use canola oil with a couple to tablespoons of bacon grease to season it.  Boiled okra is vile, looking like dull green slugs swimming in a pool of their own slime.

In any event, there came to the place a groundhog (or woodchuck, depending on your geographical origin) to live under the barn.  They had been hunted to near local extinction during the Great Depression, and in the early 1980s were just getting reestablished in Hackett.  Dad did not think anything of it at first, but then the Great Okra Caper began.

One morning Dad went out to cut okra and one of his six or eight plants had been shredded from top to bottom.  This is very curious because okra has millions of irritation hairs (or spines) on the leaves, stem, and to a lesser extent the pods too.  Initially Dad thought is might the local kids just making mischief.

A couple of days later, a second okra plant got shredded, but this time there were tracks, and they matched those of the woodchuck.  Dad was pissed!  He had thoughts like, “give that critter a home and see what he does”, “ingrate”, and, if anyone remembers the cartoon The Hillbilly Bears, things like, “mmmm, nnnn, mmmmm,  blather blather, “darn woodchuck”.

Dad took a sniper position in the loft of the barn, and the loft door conveniently opened towards the garden.  He lay in wait with is trusty Winchester .22 rifle, watching all night.  Just before dawn the woodchuck came out of its burrow from under the barn and Dad dispatched it with a single head shot!  That was the last of the shredded okra.

I saw personally the shredded okra plants, and let me tell you that a near end of season okra stalk is TOUGH!  Hats off to the strength of the woodchuck.  Dad had the last laugh, though.  He told me later that he had not eaten woodchuck since the Great Depression, and since this one was okra fed that it was the best ever!

That about does it for My Little Town tonight.  Please add your experiences growing up, regardless of the size of the town in which you thrived.  I enjoy reading them, and so do others.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

Daily Kos,

Docudharma, and

firefly-dreaming

1 comment

  1. Translator, aka Dr. David W. Smith

    remembering distant memories?

    Warmest regards,

    Doc

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