Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gherkin Follies

             I always loved staying with my grandparents, my mother’s family.  To me the farm was a place of new experiences…let’s face it…I was mostly too young to know that a farm required hard work from those who lived there.  I was also…let’s face it…very spoiled!

            I was the only grandchild for six years so I was doted on, allowed to do pretty much as I pleased, and had evidently learned to use blonde Shirley Temple curls and blue eyes to their best advantage. 

Since my mother was the oldest of twelve, I had the unique advantage of being just a shade younger than my youngest aunt and uncle.   Most of the time grandmother (who never seemed to stop doing a thousand things a day) would simply tell the two of them to keep an eye on me.

With those two as my teachers I learned magnificent new skills…from how best to remove the eggs from a crotchety hen, to turn found objects into magnificent playhouses, to wander far and wide through the fields investigating everything, and…probably most important of all…how to “bust” a watermelon open on a stump.   The rewards of doing this correctly enabled the participants to feast on the sun-warmed goodness of ripe red innards, so ripe that the juice ran merrily in rivulets down our fronts.  After eating our fill we headed for the nearest stream; otherwise we would have returned home a sticky mess and everyone would know where we’d been.  (I don’t think that escaped too many eyes anyway!)

Granddaddy farmed those acres with a hand plow and two mules, the reins wrapped around his neck.  That was just the way they did it back then.  The crops that grew best in that sandy Red River bottom soil were primarily peanuts, cucumbers, and watermelons.  For a city girl like me, all of them were fascinating…most fascinating were the peanuts.

You approached the mature plant with a spading fork and carefully pulled it loose from the soil.  It was like finding hidden treasure!  If you had picked the right plant, you unearthed a wealth of peanuts, just waiting to surprise you!  No wonder I saw it as fun!

When there was work to be done, however, all hands (all five aunts and uncles) were required in the fields.  There was hoeing of weeds to be done, there was picking to be done (so the plants would keep producing), and eventually the final harvesting of the crops…all required well-practiced hands.  This usually left me out……

One morning Granddaddy announced that the day’s job would be picking cucumbers so he could take them to market.  Wonder of wonders, he asked me if I would like to help!   ME!!!!  I was as proud as if I had been asked to save the nation (or something equally heroic).  My aunts and uncles must have smiled inwardly and raised their eyebrows…they already knew that Granddaddy meant the whole morning at least!

Off we went to the field and I was given my very own tow sack to fill.  I even had my own row!  By the time I was halfway down the row it was apparent to everyone that I was missing a lot, if not most, of the cucumbers ready to travel.  After all, those leaves were scratchy…no one said that I had to pull them aside and hunt for the critters! 

In order to help me save face (or possibly to keep the peace), Granddaddy changed my job description…to gherkin hunter!  Oh, what an accolade!  He suggested that there was definitely a market for gherkins, and since I was pintsized, perhaps that would be my natural bent…to find pintsized cucumbers!  I liked that better (mainly because the others would call me over when they found the tinier ones) and my job was much easier from that point on.  The worst part was that they kept finding them all morning!  I thought it would never be time to go back to the house for lunch!

I carried my finds back to show Grandmother, who dutifully admired my prowess (I told you I was spoiled).  The best however was yet to come.  After lunch Granddaddy asked if I would like to go with him to sell the morning’s work.  Would I!!!!!

He fired up the old truck, the tow sacks were loaded in the back and off we went to Little Arthur, Texas, just across the Red River.  There was an open air shed by the railroad tracks where the local farmers brought their wares and sold them to a broker of some sort. 

When we arrived I was handed my precious cargo and Granddaddy unloaded the more impressive pickings from the rest of the crew.  The sacks were placed on a big scale, weighed, and the price for the day was figured and counted out.

When it was my turn to put my “wares” on the scales, I tried to act as if I did this all the time.  I couldn’t help but watch to see if the man would be impressed with my haul.  He raised his eyebrows and commented on what a good job it was…I’m sure the two of them were in cahoots over the whole thing but I was thrilled!  Even better was when he counted out three coins into my little hand, telling me that gherkins fetched a fancier price!

I rode home in the old truck clutching the coins in my hand, thrilled to pieces with my day’s work.  I showed them to Grandmother who dutifully admired my new skills…I’m sure my work buddies had escaped to the outdoors to keep their amusement from getting them into trouble!

            I was probably all of four or five years old at the time…those summer memories I’m guessing were from the time my parents were moving our family to Tulsa.  It’s close enough.  I’m sure I was an adult before I analyzed that foray into the business world very closely. 

            I KNOW I didn’t pick enough tiny cucumbers that day to have amounted to the proverbial “hill of beans”; I’m pretty sure that my granddaddy “salted” my sack with enough cucumbers to make it worth weighing them.  I’m also pretty sure that both men “winked” their way through the transaction…and probably provided a lot of grins for the other farmers who were there at the same time.  I’m pretty sure the blonde curls helped….

            I know how hard they worked on that farm; their income depended on the crops they raised.  Everyone worked; it was their food first, but the sale of the surplus was the income that bought everything else they needed.  Whatever he put in my tow sack that day was a little less for them.

            My husband and I drove through Arthur City (as it’s called now) last year.  I looked and looked along the railroad tracks for that shed.  I hoped it would still be there even though common sense told me the wooden platform and tin roof were a thing of the past.  It still exists quite safely in my memories though...the day my granddaddy and I took the cucumbers to market. 

 I finally realized too that that tow sack was worth a lot more than those three coins; it was filled to the top with a grandfather’s love…and that…was priceless!

                                                                                    Jaymie Mathena      © 2008

No comments:

Post a Comment