The Farmer’s Market

Was the tomato homegrown was the simple question I asked. The response was a snide “do you think I grew it indoors?” Admittedly, it’s mid April, and the high temperature today is 60 degrees. Not exactly outdoor garden season yet. But it led to further discussion about how the owner of the tomato liked her okra fresh, and not frozen.

Another silly question. Had she visited the farmer’s market to look for fresh okra? Same time of year, same weather, but yes, the farmer’s market is open. There are actually several near here, and I see them on Saturday morning. Maybe they grow stuff indoors.

Around here, as I suspect is true in other locales, farmer’s markets generally are stocked by micro farm operators who are heavily into organic growing methods. Farms operated by John Deere normally have larger outlets for their produce. But I remember a different kind of farmer’s market from my youth.

I grew up in a subdivision home. But behind my home was a 100-acre piece of farmland where the fields were always planted in feed corn. Around Halloween the tractors would be out late at night, running with the their lights on harvesting the annual crop. During the winter there would be stubby stalks left over. Come spring, the field would be plowed anew and replanted. And all of the growing season we would run through the fields, up and down the long rows between the tall stalks.

I don’t know what happened to this corn when it was harvested, but on any given weekend we could ride in to town to visit the farmers market. Big, long brick building dating from 1911. The Fairgrounds Farmer’s market. It had a concrete floor and was filled with farmers selling their wares. Fresh fruit and vegetables. Baked goods. Meats and poultry. A little of everything. There were some places, like the Country Store, that had permanent shops. I remember that place because there was a large old wooden barrel in the store. When you took the lid off you found that it was about half full of soda crackers. And a cat!

During the summer this was the only place to buy a watermelon. Sure, other places sold them, but it was sacrilege to get one anywhere else. Fresh off the farm! All of this stuff was. You could see the dirt on the vegetables. And the farmer’s hands. Everything smelled fresh. Rich smells. Earthy. And the farmers all spoke like Pennsylvania Dutchmen. Because they were.

That’s different from Amish. But here’s a quick and chuckle inducing story about Amish farmers. I ran the Philadelphia Marathon several years ago and after the race we went to the big farmers market in the city. The Reading Terminal Market. I saw some Amish girls selling vegetables, and talking on their cell phones! Modern stuff like that is allowed for business purposes I guess.

The farmer’s market from my youth still operates on the weekend but it’s been years and years and years since I’ve been there. The local farmers market has good produce, and baked goods and soaps and such, but it just isn’t the same as what I remember from my youth. Nothing ever is.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Caretakers of the Tree

The place was named Shadow Lawn Farm. At one time an expansive place with livestock including cows, pigs, chickens and horses. There was a two story bank barn in days of yore. The second story disappeared somewhere along the line and it became a one story barn with horse stalls and a place for tractors. And a garage. Then there was the house. A two story place made of stone dug out of the fields as the farmers worked the land.

No telling what the first place looked like, logs and mud maybe, but the original stone house was a two over two built in 1863. Over the years it was expanded, still using the stone as a building material. And then expanded more using wood. Porches were added, and covered up, until it looked like a stone center with wings spreading out in every direction. All based on the two foot thick stone walls of the original.

And from the beginning, out in the front yard, grew the little tree. But now, after all these years, I couldn’t possibly get my arms around its trunk. In fact, I believe that my full six foot arm span wouldn’t cover its diameter! With its numerous branches, from the ground up, and its sixty foot wide canopy, it casts one hell of a shadow across the lawn. Get it? Shadow Lawn Farm.

It’s not just any old tree though. I’m pretty sure someone long ago planted this beauty. Not an oak or maple or even hickory or elm. This is a copper beech. And a magnificent specimen it is! The largest in the county! I’ve only ever seen one larger. That one is so big that where its lowest branches have dipped to touch the ground, new trees have sprung up, themselves now with branches nearing the ground. That tree is protected from any onslaught by being located on a college campus. Carefully tended.

My tree grows in the yard. It touches the house. And reaches its branches out over the road in front. Keep in mind that the house sits over a hundred feet from the road. But running along the side of the road is the electric company power line. Quite a danger for a tree. No, the tree won’t get electrocuted. But the power company doesn’t like trees. The branches give squirrels a way to get to transformers to commit suicide. And black out the neighborhood. And the branches can fall off the trees and snap the power lines. Especially when everything’s weighed down with ice in the winter. So every once on a while the power company comes along with a whirring buzz saw and mangles anything near its power lines.

Except the copper beach. For nearly forty years my parents have stood guard over that tree. Recognizing its beauty. Grandeur. And significance. You can hear the power company coming for miles. And every time, my mother or my father would wait at the edge of their property to meet the power people. They would tell them about the tree. About its beauty. And significance. And every time, the power company people would get out a pair of pruning shears and gently take out a twig or two. Just enough for the power cable to run through the middle of the tree unobstructed.

If I remember correctly, in the winter the bare branches form a crazy maze of avenues. Spring brings leaves of purple. In the summer they turn green. And in the fall, oh, in the fall they turn that magnificent copper color and shimmer in the sunlight. Spectacular to see. And each year it grows a little taller, and wider, and closer o the ground.

My parents are moving this spring, before the leaves emerge. I don’t know if new owners of the homestead will know about the shadow lawn farm. But they will see the tree. The question is, will they intercept the power company buzz saw to preserve the tree? And its beauty.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?


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The End of the Book King

For as long as I can remember, and I have a pretty long span, he has been known as the book king. He even signs his name that way on Christmas cards. In any antiques store he could always be found among the books. Turn him loose in a bookstore and he’s good for hours. Like a lot of people he goes to book sales at the library. In fact though, he has graduated from just going to the sale to a position where he provides consultation regarding book values, and works the sale as a volunteer. He’s known as the king because he’s a collector, and he’s got a lot of books.

He specializes in maritime, military and poetry. But that doesn’t limit, or define his collection. There is history, biography, science and mathematics. More recently he’s collected a lot of books on medicine as he reads to understand his own medical status. He doesn’t do romance novels or cookbooks, but everything else has found its way into his collection.

No one ever knew how many books he had. Too hard to count. What we knew was that in every room of the house there were shelves and shelves filled with books. They were stacked on the floor. Stacked on stacks. On the furniture. In the bathroom. They were everywhere, and not in small numbers. We just knew he was the king, and had a lot of books.

In the last couple of months he’s been getting a handle on the books. He and my mother are moving. And there is no room for all of the books. He poured over them again and again trying to figure out which ones he could part with. I don’t know what his criteria are for keeping or setting free. I doubt that he’s looked at all of them, but he’s made a good effort at it. He’s got a lot of other things going on with this move.

Three book dealers came to the house. One at a time. The first one bought something like four hundred books. The second dealer took seven hundred. I think the last guy left with something like nine hundred. Then there was the big giveaway. The AAUW, Association of American University Women, were the lucky recipients of over a thousand books. Just come pick ‘em up and they’re yours. I went through the whole collection before the dealers, and I took a couple for myself. As did my brother. And sister.

Don’t get the wrong idea. He hasn’t been cleaned out. No telling how many books he’s kept for himself. I know I saw him moving more bookshelves into his new apartment. He’s planning to start gathering more books soon. But it took a lifetime to gather the original collection, and now he’s only got what’s left of a lifetime to rebuild. And I haven’t even mentioned all the books my mother has! Off to a grand new start. Long live the King! And Queen.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Unexpected History Lesson

The back roads on a Sunday afternoon might offer a better chance of an antique store than the four lane.  That was my thinking anyway.  So we set out on what became a real journey through time.

On Friday we’d driven the highways down to Statesboro.  My daughter goes to school there and we were off to visit for the weekend.  Family weekend, all of us together.  Not much to see on this route.  Fields, forests, truck stops.  The road takes you around all of the towns, or what’s left of them. 

The weekend was great, visiting, with each other, and visiting the town.  But then it was time to go home.  Rather than return the same way, I thought we’d try another route.  Back roads.  Small towns.

We found small towns.  A cluster of houses centered on, well, I don’t know what.  Each other I guess.  With folks sitting on the porch just waving at the car as we passed by.  And some of the back roads turned into dirt roads.  This far south it’s not really dirt, but more of a sandy mixture.  The car’s tires turned white after rolling though it.

Along the way the conversation turned to the old relatives and we decided that my wife had family buried in a church cemetery somewhere near where we were.  The hunt was on for Mount Moriah.

The GPS we were using had a dirt road as a major landmark.  We got lost.  A young man standing in his front yard seemed likely to know where we were headed.  We pulled into the driveway to ask.  No he didn’t know, but if we rode down the road a bit, way out in the country he said, the lady at the store would know.  I could only wonder where he thought he was living if down the road, away from his home in what seemed to me like the middle of nowhere, was the country.  Off the dirt road?  After asking two more local people where the place was, with none of them knowing, we tried another dirt road.  Never did see the store with the knowing lady.

We did find another store.   The one that my mother in law remembered.  An old wooden structure, long since abandoned and now dilapidated, that had been her grandfather’s place of business.  It was he and his wife who were buried at the church, not more than a quarter mile distant.

We pulled into the church cemetery and started wandering and looking.  There they were.  Two tombstones, grandmother and grandfather.  My daughter’s great-greats.  Another car pulled up to the church and after a few minutes a woman came out of the church and across the street to ask us if we were looking for something in particular.

My mother in law explained what we were doing and the woman’s eyes lit up and she said “let me go get Joe, you’re kin to him!”  Joe turned out to be my mother in law’s cousin’s nephew.  We were family and just like that, we were taken in and treated like we’d known each other all our lives.

Rachel, Joe’s wife, was so nice to us.  She wanted to show us all around the church and show us pictures of all the old relatives.  The family was big in the church.  There was a stained glass window dedicated to my wife’s great grandparents.  There was a spot on the wall in the sanctuary where someone had unloaded a double barrel full of birdshot in the middle of the night.  We heard the story of how the church was built in 1867, and remodeled in 2009.  We saw the old outdoor baptismal font, across the street and in the woods.  She told us the story of how the road had been moved to get it away from the church’s front door. And how the last thing her father in law had made sure of was that the road in front of the church got paved.

There was a map of the cemetery plots.  And we heard about how this aunt and that cousin were buried down the road in another church cemetery.

I’m sure they would have invited us to stay for dinner, or even to spend the night, but they were starting their youth group bible class and we were now of a need to hit the road. Heading toward the car we all hugged each other, even us in-laws.  And of course they told us to come back, and we told them to come visit.  A southern nicety.

I’d hoped for an antique shop.  An old cemetery is always an interesting adventure.  But meeting these people, relatives, and experiencing their hospitality, that was all way beyond expectation.  And the best part of the day.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Sure Signs

The cracking sound as the bat meets the ball.  Or in the aluminum bat world of college ball, the pinging sound.  Still, a leisurely game of baseball while basking in the warmth of the afternoon sun.  A motorcycle ride without a warm layer, a wind layer and two or three more warm layers.  Jeans, helmet, short sleeves and the vest.  Bugs in the unmasked teeth.  Birds chirping with anticipation.  Seeking mates and building nests.  Flowers and trees all abloom.  Bringing bright color to the landscape. Pollen. And now, daylight savings time.  All signs of spring.  I’m just waiting for the sun, moon and stars to align to coincide with the calendar.  Official Spring.  And I’m hoping that Mother Nature will hold off with another snowstorm.  That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?


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Snowy Roads

Travelling on deserted roads was blissful.  No honking.  No worrying about what the other drivers were going to do next.  There wasn’t a Sunday driver in sight.  And no crazy speed demons.   In fact, on my ten-mile trek I doubt if I saw more than three other cars. 

Normally the route I take to work, back and forth, would be jammed with cars.  Frustrating and nerve wracking.  But for three days, almost everyone was off the roads, holed up at home.  This was the great blizzard and ice storm.

Keep in mind that I live in Georgia so what we call a great blizzard probably amounted to three or four inches of snow.  I grew up in Pennsylvania so driving in that was no problem for me.  What made it bad was the ice.  Under the snow, and later on top of it as it began to fall as sleet, was a half-inch of ice. 

Unless you drive a vehicle with tank treads, or snow chains, there is no way to drive on ice without some slipping and sliding.  And yes, as always in this kind of weather, I saw cars on the side of the road or in the ditch beside it. 

A couple of weeks ago Atlanta was in the news as a laughing stock.  Total gridlock, chaos and massive misery caused by a little ice and snow.  No one bothered to prep the roads, or send people home knowing that driving would be terrible.  How big a mess it turned out to be was all over the news.  People stuck in their cars for days, sleeping the aisles of the grocery stores.

So, with a second chance to get it right, everyone closed and went home before the snow or ice even started coming down.  A good thing. 

People like me had to go to work, driving in the snow, regardless of the weather.  I’m in healthcare.  When I’m not blogging or antiquing that is.  We go to work to care for patients.

It wasn’t a big storm compared to what others have, but for us, here in Georgia, it was a storm for the ages.  I enjoyed driving on the empty roads.  But I can tell that everyone is emerging from hibernation because the cars are back on the roads en masse.  Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.  Yeah, yeah, quit your honking, I’m moving.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Sudden Shaking

Daddy, my furniture is shaking were the words I awoke to. Half asleep, all I could say was “what?” She repeated herself and the words sunk in. I still didn’t understand what she meant though.

She wouldn’t go back in her room. Definitely afraid of something. She was standing in my doorway, staring down the hallway toward her room.  I asked if it were a ghost. No. Not that. Was it a burglar? Could be. She’d heard a noise from the garage directly below her room.  Daddy earns his pay.

I went into her room. Giving her dresser a shove I decided it was too heavy to shake. But it had she said again. She’d heard the things on top of it rattling.

The dog wasn’t barking. There was no noise from downstairs. Not a burglar. Maybe she’d been dreaming. Then we heard it. A news flash on the Internet. We had just been through an earthquake. In Georgia?

Not big. 4.1 on the Richter scale. Not deep. Just some rumbling felt for long distances. Atlanta sits on a major quake fault. Inactive for 200 million years, but there. And the New Madrid fault, which is active, isn’t far away. So we get these rumbles once in a while. Always surprising.

Our snowstorms aren’t like Boston blizzards. California quakes beat ours by a mile. But what we have, what we call snowstorms and earthquakes are real to us. And the furniture did shake. That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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