Growing God’s little talent

Published 3:35 pm Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The okra would make me itch like crazy.

According to my mother, it wasn’t so bad if you got up real early in the morning to pick it. Personally, I never could tell the difference.

To this day I don’t like to eat it no matter how it is cooked because I couldn’t stand to pick it. In fact, I would say that boiled okra is my absolute least favorite food in the whole world.

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I never lived on a farm, but agriculture has been part of my life since I was born. In addition to buying peanuts, my father and grandfather grew hundreds of acres of turnips, watermelons, corn and peanuts. We had 400 head of cattle. And we had a garden.

Along the way it was decided the garden would be a good way for Ernest and me to earn some money and learn some responsibility. I am not sure how much money we ever made but we did learn about hard work, dry weather, pesky weeds and okra.

The plan was for us to sell the fruits of our labor to neighbors and friends around town. We planted squash, peas, beans, corn, cantaloupe and watermelons, along with the okra and an acre and a half of tomatoes.

The tomatoes were on the side of gentle hill. We planted what seemed like thousands of plants that all lived and did well. When it came time to bear fruit the rains just would never come. The blooms turned into millions of small marble-sized tomatoes. Out of the acre and a half, we harvested exactly one box of tomatoes to take to the farmers market.

Every day I would ride my bicycle out to this farm, about a mile outside town. Ernest could never see the point of all that effort much preferring to be playing ball than watching tomatoes grow.

“If it rains, it rains,” he would say with that carefree attitude about life that makes him so pleasant to be around.

I worried and fretted and even tried to bargain with God if he would just let it rain. It never did, but I kept my part of the bargain anyway. Since that hot summer, I never complained about the weather again. I came to see water as a blessing and still won’t complain if there is temporarily too much of it.

What did result was the biggest tomato fight in Cottonwood’s history. Dozens of boys battling it out with little ripe red tomatoes for ammunition. We laughed and played until the sun was nearly setting. It remains one of the best memories of my childhood.

It’s been a long time since I planted a garden or farmed. The grocery stores just kept getting better and better produce and vegetables. Peas kept getting better until you couldn’t tell the difference between machine shelled and hand shelled.

For decades I have taken the same route on my morning walk. It takes me by a massive field with many circular irrigation systems and it takes me past a small 75-by-100-foot garden. Over the last few years I began to pay attention to that small garden and the small older woman that lovingly tends to it.

She is up early each morning, tilling and hoeing along the rows that always run in the same direction. They are neat, straight and uniform. When a particular crop is finished, it is like they disappear overnight only to be replaced by a later season plant.

The variety far exceeds the massive garden of my youth. To be honest, the quality probably exceeds my old garden as well. I know that I saw plump ripe tomatoes on her bushes this morning, along with some fine looking watermelons. It is such a perfect garden I’ll bet her okra doesn’t even make you itch.

She works in her garden with a long dress and a bonnet. She is as limber as a child in the way she bends down to pick out a lonely weed. I finally stopped to talk to her and learned just what this garden means to her.

Corine Allen told me that it was the one talent God had given her. She talks with passion about the garden, which is obviously giving her pleasure and satisfaction along with a bountiful harvest. Then she asked me if I liked peas.

They were little English peas, I believe. The smallest and greenest I had ever seen. They were freshly picked and hand shelled. It was unbelievable at how good those peas were. Really, who has time for a garden these days when you can buy it all in the store? Store bought, machine shelled and canned didn’t even come close.

Passing the garden is now the highlight of my walks. I look forward each day to see what she has planted, what is blooming, and how that spot had changed. I marvel at how efficient this little patch of land is in producing food for Corine and her family and friends.

I am blessed to get a daily glimpse at the way life used to be and to see how bountiful nature can be when nurtured and cared for. She loves her garden and I hated mine. Perhaps that was the only difference. Either way, I could sure use some more peas!