Summer is here. Trips by the small vegetable stand near our house bring to mind summers long past.
Our home, even though only three miles from the town of Newberry, was very much in the country.
My father, Ernest Olin Shealy, the offspring of a farmer, had always dreamed of flying. By the time my sister, Patricia, and I were born, he operated the only airport for miles around and offered charter flights and flying lessons and even rebuilt wrecked aircraft.
However, as winter faded and spring drew near, his strong ties to the land emerged. He loved the smell of newly turned soil and marveled at the appearance of the tiny leaves.
Seeds saved from the previous harvest were inventoried, Ruff’s Feed ‘n Seed visited, and rows of soil tilled in preparation for seeds my mother, Willene, sister Patricia and I would diligently sow. Later, my father would cover each one with rich Newberry loam.
I can remember his sitting on our front porch looking up at the sky during the days before weathermen and Doppler radar; and after reading the cloud formations and sky colors, he would say, “Rain is coming.”
Those spring showers began a cycle that would end with an abundant harvest of every vegetable he could plant.
Garden-related chores were a must for us children. We hoed weeds from long rows of vegetables. We carried buckets of water to thirsty tomatoes, beans and peppers. Later we would sit on empty five-gallon buckets in the shade of a large pine and pull peanuts from the mountain of vines my father had uprooted.
These nuts were washed, dried on old bedspreads for days and hung in the shed in burlap bags. Later, on cold wintery nights, everyone enjoyed Olin’s parched peanuts.
Of course, the “pullers” would not have to wait until winter for peanuts. A large pot of salted water would be started for cooking that first batch. After being taste-tested at least a dozen times, boiled peanuts, a true Southern delicacy, would be heaped into our bowls, a wonderful compensation for a hot day’s work!
Cabbage, red and green tomatoes and peppers, onions, artichokes and an odd assortment of pungent-smelling spices became the most incredible of all relishes: Palmetto Chow-Chow.
My mother and our friend, DeDe, would stand all day over the hot stove constantly stirring this tasty concoction. Jars looking like colorful toy soldiers standing at attention found their places on our pantry shelves. Later, they were joined by the yellows, reds and greens of squash, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, and corn.
To supplement our family’s income, my father would plant rows of corn to sell at Young’s Fruit and Vegetable Store.
Early in the morning while the grass still glistened with dew, Patricia and I would count dozens of ears of corn and stuff them tightly into large bushel baskets. Off we would go to deliver the cargo, our 1941 grey Plymouth loaded with corn and passengers alike. I can still remember the coldness of the cement floor on my bare feet as my father deposited our pay into each of our outstretched hands.
Never has Coca Cola tasted so good as the ones we purchased with those hard-earned nickels!
Each of the crops my father planted had its own story to tell.
Watermelons would be expertly “thumped” in the morning, hauled to the shade of an old fig tree, and cut in the afternoon’s last light.
Strawberries were sliced and then frozen in our chest freezer furnishing us with Sunday and “company” desserts for the entire year.
Cantaloupe seeds spread on old newspapers were dried and stored in mayonnaise jars to feed hungry winter birds.
Pole beans became tepees to two very hot children playing on lazy summer days.
And the sugar fig trees yielded sweet fruit to be sold with the “fig” money kept in an old cookie jar and used for a brief stay at the beach.
As an adult, I can understand and appreciate my father’s closeness to the earth. Summer is here, and the small vegetable stand near our house is open, offering up memories as well as vegetables.
Murrie Alice Johnson is a retired school teacher, wife, mother of two, and grandmother of one. She lives on Johns Island and loves gardening, a gift from her father.
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