A Little Gardener

Friday, July 29, 2016

My great grandfather Earnest Newton Tedder, was married to my great grandmother Bessie Pauline Tedder. They lived among the mountains on a farm in Southwest Virginia with their five children, the oldest being my maternal grandmother, Helen Pauline (Tedder) Fleenor. He started share cropping in 1934 and continued until he bought his first house/land in 1959. He was 56 and my great grandmother was 50. They bought the house, and 86 acres, for $6,000. It was a beautiful farm where I spent weekends and summers in my youth. 


Papaw, as I called him, was also a tobacco farmer, growing tobacco with this help of his son, well into his 90s. He had two different tobacco allotments, meaning he planted on someone else's land when they didn't want plant their own. He would share some of the money with them as well. In addition to all of that, he was also a dairy farmer for nearly 20 years and my Mamaw, as I called her, would churn and make butter to keep and sell. A hard working couple who never stopped to smell the proverbial roses, but lived a happy and healthy life among the farm they worked so hard during their early years to obtain. 

And they grew the largest vegetable garden one has ever seen. In land below the road of their home, Papaw turned up the earth with horse and plow. He had 20 or more rows of corn. He put out brown and green beans, peas, tomatoes, cabbage, onions, and beets. And he had bushels of potatoes. My parents put out their last garden, on the same land with the help of Papaw, before they moved to Kansas that Christmas. He kept all their harvest in a dairy that was built into the side of a mountain. It kept everything dry and free of moisture so they wouldn't spoil. 

You could say that farming is on our blood, but it wasn't really until after my son was born that I wanted to start planting our own garden. I never really paid attention to the food I was eating, or what was actually going into my body, as far as pesticides and other chemicals. As a mother, I changed my focus and began giving McKinley organic milk when he was ready. I started eating chicken that was free of antibiotics. I started cooking and baking with organic eggs. And I occasionally purchased organic vegetables, but they are so expensive. So, I put out a garden. We started with two raised bed gardens at the side of our house. My husband and dad dug up the evergreen growth that had been planted before we ever moved in, something I loathed looking at every year, and prepared the ground for harvest. That spring we planted various lettuces, tomato plants, carrots, and radishes. The only thing plentiful was the lettuces and tomatoes, but I was happy with the lot. I had such a since of accomplishment. I wanted to go bigger.

The next summer, my dad helped me plot out a larger garden along the fence row of our backyard. We planted green beans, corn, and cucumbers and the harvest was amazing! I was hooked. McKinley was three the first year we started gardening. He helped water that year and nothing else. The following summer, he helped pick cucumbers and green beans. He watered with us in the evening and I would point out all the new buds or vegetables that were popping up from the earth. I wanted him to know that what we put into the earth, how we take of the earth, is how we keep a healthy and clean earth. I wanted to instill in him the farmer spirit that is his ancestry. That he came from successful farmers and there is a pride in putting out a garden, tending to it, and reaping the benefits of hard work.



We put out our garden again this year, but with all the rain, it was flooded for most of the spring. We still have growth, but nothing like last year. We've benefited from arugula and salad lettuce. We had enough radishes for a summer salad. And currently, our green beans are starting to sprout. Our corn is small, so probably something more for the critters around us than for our plates, and we lost our entire cucumber crop. We replanted a couple of weeks ago, within the raised bed and larger garden, and McKinley was the first to help. He raked the gardens to rid the soil of the previous crop. He helped create the rows within the beds for planting, and then placed seeds within each row. Same for the large garden. He helped water, with the use of his own watering can, and proudly showed his dada everything we planted when he got home from work. I love watching him. I love that he's interested in helping with the garden. That he's proud of his efforts. And, that he wants to see what's coming up after several weeks of planting. And eventually, I'm hoping he will actually eat what comes out of our garden. Vegetables are way more fun to grow than eat.

Bessie Pauline Tedder passed away at the age of 89 and Earnest Newton Tedder passed away at the age of 98. I am so thankful that I was able to spend time with these amazing people well into my adult life. I'm so very proud to be the great granddaughter of Earnest and Bessie Tedder. And I want McKinley to know that being the great great grandson, of such important people in my life, is something he should be proud of as well. That you work hard for the things you want in life. That taking care of our earth, they way Mamaw and Papaw did, helps keep it plentiful for generations to come. And I hope he tells his children about planting a garden with his Mama and that he was proud to be a little gardener. 


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