First time in the garden with Grandpa

By Philip Case, Published:

What seems like a lifetime ago now, I put out my first garden with my Grandpa.

Reading about Wes Henry’s work in his garden reminds me of my first effort under the watchful eye of the man who I truly believe was the most formative influence in my becoming a weaver of yarns.

With my blind grandmother sitting at her spot on the end of the old green couch in the living room of their tiny home in north Lexington, Grandpa and I made plans as winter morphed slowly to spring. He was reluctant at first but, I guess, he must have decided it would be good for a chubby little city boy to get his hands in the good earth.

We decided on a spot in his yard behind the garage and then marked off the boundaries with stakes and string.

“Grandpa,” I asked, “how we gonna get through the grass to get to the dirt?” It was early March and the days were growing longer and I, at least, was getting the itch to get started.

He went to his garage, or “guh-rods” as he pronounced it, and came back with a spading fork. He poked the tines in the sod, put his big shoe on it and pushed the fork to the hilt into the soft earth.

Then Grandpa deftly turned the fork to one side — you know the move — the sod fell from its tines and beneath it was the black earth that would suckle our summer efforts from seed to harvest.

I was giddy with anticipation — until he handed me the spading fork and stepped back. “There it is, Phil,” he said. “Have at it.”

Suddenly our little 20x30-foot plot looked like about a half acre!

You know, I don’t remember anymore about that day in March nearly six decades ago. What I do remember is we raised a garden, starting with onions and radishes in the spring. I watched them with childlike wonder, pulling the radishes to check their progress then trying to stick them back in the ground before Grandpa noticed.

We raised tomatoes, tried some potatoes, did fairly well with beans. When fall came we pulled the spent plants and planned for the next spring. It seemed as if the cycle would go on forever.

We planned and raised our little garden for many summers until my grandmother got sick and died. After a brief spurt of energy, he saddened and became despondent. By then I was about out of high school and my zest for gardening had been replaced by other things.

But in an effort to cheer him up, I tried to get him back out to work on our garden again, perhaps to recapture the wonderful memories of my childhood — and more importantly his happier days.

“I just can’t, Phil,” he’d say when I suggested we put fork to earth again. “Pig’s gone (that’s what he called her) and it’s just not the same.”

And with that declaration those experiences across many summers became a part of the rich tapestry of growing up and gardening with Grandpa Addison at the end of Price Avenue.

I never “make garden,” as they say in the country, that I don’t remember the first one — and Grandpa.

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  • I was taught the "black art" by a man named Howrd Benz and his wife Clara. For them, it was not a hobby. Freezing and canning was a big part of it. The garden was a big part of their food supply.  I still remember the first time he le me run the big Gravely tiller that he had. It pretty much beat me to death because I didn't know how to use it.  I still put out a garden even though my work schedule and travel don't always allow me to take the best care of it, and often think of Howard and Clara when I'm in it. Thanks Phil.