This post was written by Gail’s youngest daughter, Shannon Marie Hyle. The date is meaningful, as it was about 2 weeks before Shannon’s death in early December 2006. Gail shared it on the Our Echo website in 2007. Ten years has passed since Shannon wrote this memory piece.
Growing Up Garden
by Shannon (Martin) Hyle
Living in the country was wonderful time in my life. I had all the space I could ever want, a sandbox, a creek and a pond to grub in and around, and a barn for the cow. There was fresh food to pick and eat, baby rabbits and wonderful trees to dream under. I was too young to recognize any bad things that happened so the farm was a glorious island.
We rented the farmhouse and surrounding land from a local farmer. Mother must have loved it. It had a huge fenced yard that would have kept me confined without getting into trouble. There was a big sandbox for me to bury my toys in.
The biggest part of our life on the farm was taking care of the garden. It was an enormous garden and we all had to work every day to keep it in hand. Dad had a pump hooked into the creek so we could pump water from the creek instead of dragging it up bucket by bucket. We raised the produce during the summer and preserved it to use during the winter. We all knew better than to goof off instead of completing our chores. If we didn’t raise a good crop, it might be a slim winter.
From what I recall, we planted almost everything we could find. There was corn, peas, beans, potatoes, asparagus, pumpkins, squash, rhubarb, strawberries, swiss chard, watermelons, cantaloupe, beets, peppers, okra, carrots, and turnips. That seems like an awful lot, but I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. Ah, tomatoes of course.
I remember digging potatoes with Dad. At least Daddy would dig and I would follow along behind him with the bucket, gathering potatoes. Daddy usually only needed one push with the shovel to unearth the dirt crusted tubers. You had to gather the biggest ones and re-root the plant to let the rest of the potatoes grow. We all looked forward to the first fresh meal out of the garden. It was usually new peas and new potatoes in cream sauce, both vegetables very young and tender.
Mom and I would harvest asparagus; Mom slicing it cleanly at the base of the stalk and me gathering it in the bucket. Later on I got to cut them, too.
Weeding was a big thing also. My particular target was a woody-stemmed villain we called cottonweed because of its soft, furry leaves. They infested our garden, growing like, well, weeds. They were easy enough to pull when they were tiny, but by the time I would work from one side of the garden to the other, I would be tackling nasty, snarling killer weeds that were taller than me. I think I was supposed to get a penny for each weed I pulled, but I can’t remember where the money went.
There were a lot of things to be learned in the garden. I think farm kids get the jump on city kids. As a toddler, I was out in the garden, learning sorting, sizing, colors, and physical coordination. It all came in picking the biggest and leaving the smaller, shelling, cleaning and things like that. It was quite an education.
The garden was not just work though; it was also a magic playground. Filled with sunlight and shadows, it was an exhilarating place to be. Between rows of green corn, taller than me, I could run or hide. The leaves would dance over me, flickering sunlight on my face. The freshly turned, crumbly earth always smelled; umm, fantastic!
Sometimes the yellow and brown striped garden spiders would set up shop between the rows, stringing their intricate webs from stalk to stalk. Some of them were as big as my hand, my hand when it was younger anyhow. The web strands would glisten in the sun and we tried not to disturb them for they were good spiders preying on the enemies of our vegetables.
The insects seemed magic, too. There were multicolored dragonflies and damselflies that floated above the garden and brilliantly hued ladybugs that policed the plants. And I could never forget the pests; nasty grubs, cabbage worms and all sorts of beetles and bugs that swarmed over the plants.
All of this is probably the reason I garden today with my two girls; teaching them planting and weeding. Together we watch miracles unfold in the garden.