The cows are in the garden!

My grandfather planted potatoes and other root crops before the last expected frost. The site was south of the house free of shade.

He kept a hoe beside the gate and had to walk by the garden to get to the barn and pig pen. Each time he passed the garden he tinkered with it, or at it.

Every April Fool’s Day he fell for the same line. My grandmother awoke him early and before he could could get his teeth in and his head on straight.

I don’t know if he really didn’t remember hearing it every year or went along with it for her amusement.

For such a small piece of land he grew all they could eat and enough to get them through the winter.

He picked green beans then sat on the front porch running a needle and thread through them. It was always warm in the kitchen and in the wash room between the kitchen and the well.

The strings of green beans (called leather britches) laced around the walls mixed with strings of peppers. The peppers were for making sausage or dropped into a bottle of vinegar for hot sauce.

Just before peas and butter beans popped out of their dry shells he collected them in flour sacks and they were hung on nails around the kitchen to keep them dry.

A few things were canned and some, like fruit from his orchard behind the pond, were dehydrated on sheets of tin and covered by cheese cloth.

About the only way to preserve corn was to turn it into hominy. Dry corn was soaked in lye water to loosen the hull and the lye water was made by pouring rain water through hard wood ashes.

After soaking and rinsing the hominy was canned. Dried corn shucks were used for making mattresses or for corn-shuck dolls which didn’t last long but were cheap to make.

The last year she pulled it on him he didn’t even have a garden but he rolled out of bed and started looking for his shoes.

He turned 77 that year, seeming to be impossibly old and fragile, easily confused. Seventy-seven doesn’t feel all that old to me. That year he spent more time sitting on the front porch counting cars crossing the mountain or re-reading one of the books from his small library. I didn’t play an April Fool’s joke on anyone this year but while at the big box store I kept running into the same frustrated, distracted, cell phone chewing mom and her bratty, smart-mouthed teen-aged daughter.

I thought it would be fun to wake them up by dropping a pregnancy test kit into their cart but I didn’t do it. Honest!

Somebody else must have.

Joe Phillips is a noted historian, a Douglas County resident and a regular columnist for the Sentinel.

Joe Phillips is a noted historian, a Douglas County resident and a regular columnist for the Sentinel.