Well, I always wanted to live on a farm. Something about all that space and being surrounded by plants, I guess. Never happened, and at my age (none of your business, thank you) it’s not likely to. So hubby and I have a third of an acre in a development. It’s not our first adventure in suburban agriculture, but it’ll do. The central Delaware soil is a rich sandy loam, and we’re happy with that. The first summer’s harvest, even planted late, (early June, after we bought the house in mid-May) without compost, and with squirrels digging up the bean seeds and dogs rampaging through, exceeded expectations.
Ah, but we have plans. (Cue Bach’s Toccatta and Fugue in B#.) We’ll see how that goes, and when we find out, we’ll share it with you here.
I never met my grandfather. He died a year or so before I was born, but I grew up listening to stories about him. His name was John Jacob Hoehing, and he went by Jake. He had three outstanding characteristics: He could fix anything. He could make anything grow. Everywhere he went, he ran into a friend.
My grandparents married in 1911. They were both factory workers. Elizabeth, my grandmother, had been orphaned at age 13. The relatives who took her in never allowed her to forget to be thankful that they let her finish eighth grade before sending her out to earn her keep. She never talked about what she did in the factory, but her wages helped her younger sister attend secretarial school and get a leg up in life. Jake was her knight in shining armor. After ten years in the factory, she was now a housewife.
They worked and saved and eventually bought an eight-unit apartment house. Lizzy kept the hallways spotless, and scrubbed the marble front steps each day. Jake kept the light bulbs on and the plumbing running. In his spare time, he turned the tiny back yard into a miniature Garden of Eden. Cabbages. Tomatoes. Espaliered fruit trees.
Good thing, too. When the stock market crashed in 1929, the jewelry factory closed and he lost his job as a stone setter. By that time, my mother had followed her aunt’s footsteps and gone to secretarial school. She’d already been working as a legal secretary in the Essex County Courthouse in Newark, NJ for 2 years. Each week she gave $10 of the $15 she earned to her mother. When my uncle turned nine, in 1931, he got an evening job as a pinsetter at the local bowling alley. I don’t know how much he made, but it cost him part of his hearing. They made it through.
My parents married later in life than most. World War II intervened before I came along, and so they were about ten to twenty years older than most of my friends’ parents growing up. For their parents, the Great Depression was some vague, fuzzy memory that happened when they were little, and mostly to other people. For my parents, it was the defining event of their lives, and a frequent topic of dinner table conversation. My father spent the entire decades of the Fifties’ and Sixties’ prosperity fully convinced that it would all end tomorrow.
They didn’t garden, though. Mom had survived tuberculosis and been declared semi-invalid. Dad came from lace curtain Irish stock, people who concealed their manual incompetence behind a screen of distain for anyone who “worked with their hands.” My uncle gardened. He’d married the daughter of Italian immigrants, and growing tomatoes and canning them was part of their family tradition. My father’s cousin and his wife gardened, and turned me on to Rodale and yoga. (Aunt Rita, a devout Catholic, and in all other ways a totally conventional middle-class American housewife, was a fan of Lillias, on PBS.)
So the gardening bug skipped a generation in my family, but it came roaring back with me.