My grandmother this coming spring will turn 92. She grew up picking cotton on other folks' farms in "LA, Lower Al'bama," south Georgia and N. Florida. She continues to "farm" to this day. Her vegetable garden-- heavy on peas, tomatoes, squash, sweet potatoes and peppers during the summer and collards, mustards and turnips during the winter-- is one of the things that keeps her going. Born in 1918, she "didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday."
Here she is in her garden harrowing a row with her five-year-old great-granddaughter, Mackenzie.
Ever since I started growing vegetables when I was eight-years-old, food bearing plants-- and the eating that goes along with them-- have been one of the mainstays of our relationship. When we write letters, we always end up reporting on the state of our gardens, sharing things like the purchase of a new fruit tree or a bumper crop of collards. And when I visit her, the first thing after hugging is to dig into the freezer for peas and greens; then we cook-up a skillet of corn bread and maybe heat some tomato gravy too.
I've grown up on stories from my grandmother about the Great Depression. Of course, that's not what she calls it. She refers to that period as "Hoover's Time." "Back in Hoover's Time..." she often introduces memories. And then she'll tell one of countless stories. And just perhaps I'll goad her to tell my favorite: the one about the time she put pulverized red chilies in my grandfather's snuff can because he'd promised to quit dipping in order to save money... but he didn't, and she found his can of snuff hidden out in the barn wall concealed by some "ole piece of trash." "Uuuuu Oh my!" she always concludes. "He didn't sleep all night long. Kept gettin' up to get water. Now, if he'd just told me he couldn't live without his snuff; if he'd just said, 'That's just not something I'm willin' to give up,'... ah well, but he didn't."
I don't believe I'll forget those words as long as a live. I've heard them plenty.
Another sentence that stands firm in my mind is Granny stating, "We made it through Hoover's Time because we had a garden, because we had a cow and our chickens." And knowing that she regularly worked twelve to fourteen-- even sixteen-- hour days picking cotton for 25 to 35 cents a day, I know she doesn't mean, "We were on easy street because of our garden, cow and chickens." No. What she means is that they survived--they were able to feed themselves-- because they had access to vegetables, milk, butter, eggs and occational chicken meat. In other words, the family made it through tough times because they raised food.
Today I was at the seed store (Standard Feed) in Jacksonville, FL. The man working the desk told me, "We haven't sold this many seeds in at least ten years." He then recommended that I get an early start with my spring garden because he anticipated there weren't going to be enough seeds for all the folks that want to plant.
Seems more and more folks are following in my grandmother's footsteps.