Texas Gardens: The Farm

Every spring, Uncle Maurice planted a garden on his farm: rows of field corn, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, and cushaws. We had to share the corn with his cattle, but there was plenty for human consumption. All we had to do was gather it.

Women usually went early, before the sun got too high, armed with baskets and dishpans and other large containers. We then spent the afternoons stringing, snapping, shelling, and doing whatever else was necessary to get the vegetables onto the table or into the freezer.

My father usually gathered corn after he got off work in the evening. Preparation required shucking and silking. If it was to be preserved, it might also require shearing, scraping, boiling and blanching. That was hot, itchy, messy work, and I was never sorry to miss it.

Roasting ears–pronounced something like ros’n’ears–came in about Juneteenth, Emancipation Day. We waited for them the same way we waited for the Luling watermelons to hit the stands about the same time. They were here for a few weeks and then we began waiting for next year’s crop. No freezing or canning could preserve the heavy, musty taste of Yellow Dent fresh out of the field.

One summer, Uncle Maurice invited the Methodists to gather beans and peas to cook for a church dinner. About a half-dozen women were picking along when the hiss of a rattlesnake interrupted the proceedings. Betty Jean Tatum, who was closest to the bean plant under which the snake had been napping, jumped out of her shoes, left them there in the dirt, and ran shrieking to the car. She returned home barefooted.

I was sorry to miss that, but I was only five years old when it happened and my mother was a Presbyterian. The story became legend and was repeated in religious circles for at least a decade.

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