Geezers, young fellows, and little children came and went all day long. They got cokes and watermelon and cheese if they liked but mainly talk. I believe they came for the talk. Once Dad was rested enough to get back to his garden, often his visitors did not leave. They did not even get up from their lawn chairs. They watched Doc till or weed or water. The little kids, of course, wanted to help, to dig with the shovel or sow the seed. The men wanted to advise or compliment as appropriate.
Sometimes Dad and another fellow would disappear for an hour or so and come back with fertilizer. When the circus was in town, they would go and ask for elephant manure and bring home buckets-full. Dad would find someone in the family, usually me it seemed, and thrust the bucket in my face.
Dad loved dirt and talked about his dirt all season long. He was so proud of the soil he gave to his vegetables to grow in. It was black and loamy and luscious. All summer long it fed his tomatoes and peppers, summer squash and zucchini, cucumbers and occasional radishes. And all summer long they fed us.
What he did not grow, he bought from the farmers’ market. Our farmers’ market back then was not the sophisticated affair that many farmers’ markets are today. A permanent semi-circle of shelters, a roof and a table, gave the sellers some shade through their hot day. All of the sellers were very small farmers, some even backyard farmers, who came to town each Saturday.
We did eat protein. But in the summer meat seemed merely a compliment to the vegetables, except for pork. Dad would drive into North Carolina with a friend for pork that the farmer made available from the poor pig on that very day. And Dad fished for spot and croaker or bought them from the men who brought their boats in at Harrison’s Pier. Summer pork and fish out of the bay have almost nothing in common with a pot roast in winter. They are more like ripe tomatoes right off the vine.
Jenny N. Sullivan is a gardener, author and garden club member in Northern Virginia. Her first novel, From My Father's House., was published in 2015. Sullivan grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, enjoyed a long teaching career in the Virginia Community College System in the Tidewater area and in Northern Virginia.