Growing things . . .
I was cleaning a package of dried beans the other night, preparing to toss them into a bean pot along with a nice hock of ham, when a wave of nostalgia engulfed me and I was back in my mother’s kitchen doing that same chore for her.
Coffee beans, navy and lima beans and rice all came from countries and climates far from here and, inasmuch as the laws weren’t as strict then as they now are, you found strange seeds and small clods of dirt along with the dried food.
It was often my task, as a child, to pick out those bits of dirt and odd seeds. Mom didn’t care about the dirt (as long as I found and discarded it) but the small seeds she wanted and saved.
She would plant those seeds and often on our window sills would be found pots filled with unfamiliar vines and strange plants making their way sociably alongside the everyday geraniums, coleus, begonias and ferns.
Where she learned her love and lore of growing things I do not know, but she had it and her way with plants was something that had to be seen to believe.
I recall one long ago day watching her pick up an 10 or 12 inch twig that had broken off a tree which a neighbor was planting. I thought she was just being her usual tidy self in clearing up the debris from the planting, as she carried it with her while we walked on home through the fields. And those fields we walked through are naught by homes and sidewalks now.
That no longer matters, but I watched with the idle curiosity of a child thinking she carried it absentmindedly, but there was nothing absentminded about Mom. She knew what she was doing and she couldn’t stand to see any living plant tossed aside and wasted.
Nope, I watched as she carefully made a slanting cut at the end of that 10 inch twig and then, just as thoughtfully, take a small potato and with a nut pick, poke a hole in the potato to fit the prepared stem. Into the potato went the tree slip and then the whole thing was planted into a flower pot and kept moist.
The tree grew and eventually was transferred outside to grow in our yard. I drive up Seventh east today and sometimes look at that tree, large and tall, that recent builders have thought worth saving, and think of that odd chance beginning on Mom’s window sill.
Mom and Pop made a good team and between the two of them knew and used many of the ‘old’ ways of growing and propagating trees, plants and bushes. I watched Dad one time as he grafted ‘starts’ of a desired tree onto the already growing tree of the less desireable strain of fruit.
Once again he prepared the ‘start’ by cutting it on a smooth slope making sure it was on a leaf notch. Then he made a like cut into the growing tree. He inserted the prepared slip, packed the implant carefully with wet mud and then bound it all up with torn strips of cloth Mom found for him.
He must have kept the pack moist (the details are gone) but I do know that within a few years Pop had the desired fruit growing on the stock of another tree.
All of which ran through my mind as I cleaned beans the other day, and knew it was no longer even a needed task, but habit is strong. Dang it, there wasn’t a stray odd seed or bit of dirt in the entire pound of beans. Oh, we’re terribly clean and sterile with our food supply today, but some of the fun is gone.
Just once in memory of Mom, I’d like to have found some strange seed to put it in moist soil and watch with curiosity to see what unfamiliar leaf and vine would grow from it, Oh, well, the baked beans were good and so plentiful I had plenty to freeze some for another day.