Thursday, April 10, 2014
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
As a child, I loved the first tiny flowers of spring–tiny lavender ones, half hidden in dead grass. Spring opens a season of renewal and promise, as fruit trees blossom, and sprouting seeds crack the ground with tender leaves.
On the farm, in bygone years, spring heralded the beginning of months of hard work that did not end until late August when the crops were "laid by," and there was a brief breather from harvesting vegetables, and no more plowing or hoeing was needed.
After Dad prepared the ground for a garden, he helped with the back-breaking job of setting out onions; then my mother took over, planting seeds at their appropriate times. Irish potatoes needed to be planted early. Dad preferred a red variety. He paid no attention to planting according to signs of the moon or old superstitions. He planted when he felt the time was right. After preparing the deep furrows and adding barnyard manure, he bought a sack of seed potatoes to cut into hefty pieces holding several sprouts. These were spread out for a day of drying the cut area before planting. I am convinced this was timed to fall on a Saturday, when I was not in school.
My dad saved our sweet potato crop outside in an igloo made of straw covered with tin. Protected from rain and freezing weather, they lasted throughout the winter. Small ones not suitable for cooking, were pushed aside and saved to provide plants for the nest years crop. Long before the average date for a late freeze, Dad buried these set-aside potatoes in long seed beds in order for them to send up sprouts that would grow into 4 o4 5 inch long plants ready to be transplanted into the field. In an adjoining bed he planted tomato seed. The beds had canvas covers attached to a narrow board, and were easily unrolled when a freeze threatened, but left rolled during sunny days and mild temperatures.
With a hoe we dug holes for acres of tomatoes.In order to take advantage of better prices for an early crop, we often set out plants in holes with little moisture. These had to be watered by hand until it rained. There was also a risk of a late freeze. That was when paper bonnets were made from old magazines pages, and carefully placed around each plant for protection.
Occasionally, during a long dry spell, the plants had to be saved by hand watering. My dad would fill a barrel with water and haul it to the field on a sled. There, we followed the sled, using a small syrup bucket to water each plant––a ribbon cane syrup bucket, to be exact. In those days, syrup came in tin buckets, and saved for other purposes. Saving was a way of life, and I'm not certain the word "recycle" existed in those days.
When the sweet potato slips were the right size, old broken broom or hoe handles were used to punch holes for each one. After a rain, my dad went down each row. with his stick––step. punch––step, punch. That done, he joined my mother and me as we dropped a plant in each hole and pressed dirt around its roots.
This was spring on the farm in the good ole days. But the roses were in bloom, the old-fashioned lilac sent out its sweet scent, and Mother made wilted salads from her garden.
Reading and Writing…
Stories of days gone by have always been popular. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell sold millions of copies during the Great Depression, and at over 30 million copies sold, is one of the world's best selling novels.
Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck's powerful novel, was not of another period when written, but now, seventy-five years later, sells over 100,000 copies annually, taking readers back to what is, in my opinion, the most tragic time in our nation's history.
In the 1930s, stories of the Old West became popular due to the writings of Zane Grey. His career was impressive despite criticism of his writing skills and melodramatic writing style. He became one of the first millionaire writers of fiction and had over ninety books published in addition to being a regular contributor to Outdoor Life.
Years later, Louis L’Amour captured a fresh audience wanting a few hours of entertainment with more westerns. After years of writing and submitting stories to pulp magazines, using the name of Jim Mayo, L’Amour’s westerns gained popularity and he wrote 100 novels and more than 250 short stories. All of his work is still in print, and sales continue to climb, after reaching a total of 320 million copies in 2010.
The works of three of these authors have been criticized for presenting an unrealistic view of life in the time frame they choose, but the readers didn’t care then…or now. Undoubtedly, the way readers in other countries thought of these periods in our nation’s development was influenced.
On the other hand, Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was banned in some places, burned in others, and loved and appreciated by many readers. It created such an uproar that Eleanor Roosevelt took notice, and asked for a congressional investigation into the migrant camps Steinbeck had written about. As a result, labor laws were changed. Few books can make such a claim.
I am so appreciative for the many sites on the internet giving information about almost anything, including the lives of these authors. The details I uncovered were so interesting I spent hours reading about each. I fell into the same trap when writing Sarah, my second manuscript. I found that although I knew about a lot of things, I didn't know if it fitted into Sarah's timeframe. So I researched. . .and researched.
I treasure this remark from a person who has followed my stories chapter by chapter:
". . .I for one have enjoyed your stories a great deal. I think what I like best is that while reading them, I am not just entertained, but I learn something about history as well. In fact, I would strongly encourage any teacher to use your stories as tools for their students. We can never have enough good books, and there are never enough like yours where students can learn and not be bored while doing so.