With early spring not far around the bend, I start to get occasional giddy spells thinking about upcoming fishing exploits and the re-introduction of daylight savings time.
Unfortunately I also have some dark thoughts creep into my mind that arise from youthful memories.
It was about this time of year that my dad would always begin conversing excitedly about his grand plans for a garden. Planting and harvesting a garden was one of his favorite activities. I tried not to encourage his enthusiasm because gardens were the bane of my existence in the spring and summer. My efforts to discourage him always went for naught.
Daddy’s opening line was, “We’re just going to plant a little patch,” but our typical garden was usually the size of a small province.
There were several general reasons for my dislike of this project.
Daddy was not satisfied unless the garden had rows similar to an Iowa cornfield. Neither was he completely content with a scattering of tomatoes, corn, and beans. No sir, we were going to have an infinite variety of vegetables and have them all in an abundant quantity.
The problem for me was that my brothers and I would have the pleasure of not only planting this soon to be bumper crop, but also shepherding the young plants throughout the growing period by keeping the weeds out of them — with a hoe. Once brought to maturity we would then be responsible for the harvest. This series of steps would take most of our summer vacation time or at least enough to assure that my expertise at fielding ground balls would suffer due to lack of practice.
Another unpleasant fact about these “little patches” is that they were filled with many foods that I cared nothing at all about. I specifically refer to butterbeans and carrots. Mama was big on these two specialties at supper time and I spent a lot of thought and energy figuring out how to avoid eating them.
My top strategy was to leave about two or three inches of milk in the bottom of my glass and sneak beans and those nasty cooked carrot slices into the glass so they would not be detected. Suffice to say that I had a large sweat investment in the garden, but very little nutrient return for my efforts.
So after a week’s worth of planting, we’d finally begin to complain and daddy’s favorite rejoinder was, “Just be glad you didn’t have to plow and plant the field with a mule.” I don’t know about that. That hoe was pretty rough.
We would then move into the weed pulling/digging phase of the operation. I didn’t know that grass could grow so fast or be so stubborn to remove. Of course it didn’t help anything that the rows stretched completely out of sight and on into Newton County.
Our instructions were simple: if any weeds were spotted in the garden we would be eating our butterbeans and carrots standing up. There were plenty of times I’d just as soon have taken that beating and headed on over to baseball practice. Whether I was sitting or standing up didn’t matter much to me when it came to those two delicacies.
Last and worst of all was the harvest.
Every morning I would dread hearing the words, “Alvin you need to head out and pick a bushel of butterbeans.”
That was a death sentence.
Picking a bushel of butterbeans was an all day event because the nasty little things laid flat in the bottom of the basket. You couldn’t fluff them up like peas. I could pick a bushel of peas in nothing flat because a good pea-picker knew how to use the criss-cross method to make a half bushel look like a bushel. With butterbeans there were no shortcuts.
When I drew the butterbean assignment it was easy to understand how Tom Sawyer felt when he saw that picket fence. Using the Tom Sawyer model I always tried to talk my little brothers into doing the butterbeans and letting me do the peas but even those small minds weren’t stupid enough to fall into that trap. Lazy little devils.
So we would spend our summers in the garden and daddy would be exceedingly pleased as he watched the crops grow and even more delighted with the table fare it resulted in. As for me, I still get horrible flashbacks anytime I see one of those wooden slatted bushel baskets or a steaming pot of beans.
I can still hear Daddy cooing over his garden as he slowly walked down the massive, weedless rows and lovingly saying, “Just look at them beans.”
It makes me sick just to think about it.
As a result of this life experience, I now stick to meat and potatoes and the potatoes come from a grocery store.
Alvin Richardson is a contributing writer, retired educator, and public speaker. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.