Thursday, August 9, 2007

Garden Memories

My column for August, entitled "Garden memories for a summer day", was published Thursday, August 2, on pages 4-5 of the Danvers Herald. The online version is in the Lifestyle section, under Columnists.  [Update 2015: I'm adding a copy of the text here, since the newspaper website no longer retains the old posting, or has moved it to an address I can't find.]

Garden memories

I have fond memories of our large family garden in Danvers during my childhood. One end of the garden was tended by my grandfather, who lived next door. My mother tended the central part of the garden and grew lettuce, corn, tomatoes, carrots, and squash. A small corner plot was set aside for me, and another one for my sister.  I planted carrots and radishes. I didn’t like the taste of radishes, but they were fun to grow -- easy and quick. Zinnias and Batchelor’s Button flowers were also easy, so sometimes I had more flowers than vegetables in my plot. I do remember the satisfaction of pulling up one of my carrots, wiping the dirt off on my jeans, and eating the carrot right there in the garden. That was a special taste!

I remember the fun of crawling through rows of corn, feeling the moist soil with my fingers and enjoying the “forest” of corn stalks towering over me. On hot afternoons the corn rows provided a unique environment of green shade and dappled sunlight. I could hear the hum of insects and the rustling of leaves. I think Mommy sent us into the rows to pull weeds she couldn’t reach, but sometimes I just liked to sit there quietly, looking and listening.

One distinctive sound in the garden was the tick-tick-ticking of the tomato hornworms as they munched on my mother’s tomato plants. She would search carefully to locate these pests and show them to us, pointing out the spots and the “horn” so we would learn to recognize them. They were really quite handsome caterpillars, but had to be removed in favor of growing healthy tomatoes. My mother was proud of her tomatoes; she liked to enter the best ones in the competition at the Topsfield Fair each year. 

My mother was also very proud of her corn and insistent that it be served as fresh as possible.  Nothing beat the taste of corn cooked within 20 minutes of picking! That was her absolute time limit; the pot had to be ready to receive the corn immediately after picking and husking. I understand that today there are newer varieties of corn that maintain their sweetness longer, but my mother was sure the sugar would turn to starch if we delayed past 20 minutes – a very high standard that no supermarket corn could meet.

At the end of the corn season we enjoyed the special ritual of feeding cornstalks to cows pastured nearby. We pulled up the cornstalks, shook off the dirt, piled the stalks onto my grandfather’s big wooden wheelbarrow, and wheeled each load over across Nichols Street to the cow pasture. My mother called out loudly, "Co' boss! co' boss! co' boss!” The cows came running. They hurried to the fence and pushed and shoved to get at the treats we brought. It was fun to watch them shake their heads vigorously as they chomped on the cornstalks. My sister and I tried to imitate them, and discovered to our delight that chewing on cornstalks released a burst of sweet juice. Yum! No wonder the cows liked cornstalks! This also explains why cows sometimes wandered into our garden when they escaped from the pasture, but that’s a story for another day.

Friday, August 3, 2007

On the street where I lived

I'm glad to see the new Danvers Herald series: On the Street where you live. I hope many people respond with information about the history of their homes.

My childhood home in Danvers had a rather short history. It was built in 1940 and torn down less than 50 years later (replaced by a parking lot for an office development). It was a small Cape built at 120 Nichols Street on land owned by my grandfather, who lived next door and wished to have rental income in his retirement. Meanwhile his son was getting married and seeking a home. I've found some letters my parents wrote in 1939-40 as they were courting and planning their future. They intended to find their own house elsewhere, but as their June 1940 wedding date approached, no house to their liking had been found. So they decided to become the first tenants in that little house -- a "temporary" arrangement. Well... they were still there in July 1943 when I was born, and we lived in that house for 14 more years!

My parents did attempt to find a larger house, and did draw up some plans in 1944 for building their own, but they were Depression-era penny-pinchers who did not believe in borrowing money. By the time they had saved enough money to begin construction, I was a teenager. We moved into a 2-story house built for us at 121 Nichols Street, just across the street. I believe that house still exists.

Above my desk is this photo of the original house as it looked in 1941, taken by Bill Goding, a photographer visiting from Yonkers, NY. In January 2006 I wrote a short piece about this photo and brought it to my first day in the "Fun with Writing" group at the Holyoke Senior Center. That first tentative visit and assignment (to write about an old photograph) led me into the joys of writing about childhood memories.