A WILD ROSE
A blushing wild pink rose.
By tangled woods and ways,
A passing sweet that goes
with summer days.
From rosy dawn till night
wafted from east to west.
Kissed by the morning light
To evening rest.
Thy odors faint outlive
alike both joy and pain.
Stealing the sweet they give
To yield again
Leaving a faint perfume
thy memory to fulfill.
Forgotten in thy bloom,
"A Wild Rose" appeared in the Chicago
September 7, 1895, page 6.
It was a cold winter night.
A thin curlicue of white smoke rose from the chimney,
sending the fragrant aroma of tamarack into
the cool night air. The full moon cast dark
shadows on the new fallen snow. From the tops
of tall pines, a pair of owls called to each
other; their answering hoots echoed back from
the nearby hills.
Inside the cozy kitchen of the snug cottage,
Grandma sat by the fireplace with her feet
resting on a small wooden stool. After a short
time she rose slowly from the chair, stirred
the coals, added a chunk of wood to the fire,
and, after pulling her shawl around her shoulders, settled down comfortably in her
The light of the kerosene lamp cast flickering
shadows on the ceiling, and she lifted her eyes to note the sprays of thyme, sage, parsley and marjoram tied in bundles, dangling above the fireplace to dry. Grandma yawned, closed her eyes and leaned her head back for a moment. Suddenly there before her were visions of the spring garden with its neat rows of beans, onions, carrots and radishes, all poking their tender sprouts through the crumbling soil. And then it was evening and she was walking through the flower garden enjoying the fragrance of Lily of the Valley, and the lovely white Star of Bethlehem from seeds her mother carried in her apron pocket when crossing the ocean on the voyage to America. The perfume of the flowers hung on the damp night air, and the fragrance filled her nostrils.
After the hatch was lifted the next morning,
Grandma climbed up the ladder to the garret
where her precious supply of garden seeds were
stored in an old steamer trunk. That evening
when the children were tucked into bed, the
seeds were carefully sorted, and plans for the
spring garden began to materialize. Garden
seeds were gathered and saved from year to
year as Grandma never enjoyed the pleasure of
paging through beautifully illustrated mail
order seed catalogues, or had the opportunity
to visit a nursery, or garden and flower shop.
The sound of Grandpa's grindstone whirling
around, sending out sparks as he pumped the
wooden pedals to sharpen the garden tools, was
music to Grandma's ears. It signaled the coming
of spring and she began to hum an old tune
learned in her childhood: "Little drops of
water, little grains of sand, make the mighty
ocean and the pleasant land." Indeed, Grandma
was about to make her plot of land pleasant
as well as profitable, both for the sustenance
of her family, and food for her soul.
One warm morning in April Grandma heard
Grandpa whistling out in the apple orchard behind
the kitchen. "Delia," he called, (that
was her nickname for Odelia) "Come out here
and tell me where you want your new hotbed."
Grandpa was a Yankee transplanted from "A-hia,"
the Buckeye State. He was proud to swear in
what he considered real American style, and
after a few cuss words, he measured up the old
window frames, while Grandma prepared breakfast.
"That shelf won't hold another plant," exclaimed
Grandpa as he entered the kitchen and
glanced at the windows where Grandma grew mint
and camoile for tea, tomato seedlings, and
Geraniums in old tin cans.
"It's time we begin thinking of tillin'
the soil girl. I'll spade the potato patch tomorrow while
you're bakin'bread, then I'll start diggin'
up your garden." He hung
his tattered wide brimmed straw hat on a peg
beside the summer kitchen door, washed his
hands at the sink, and sat down to a hearty
breakfast of home cured ham and eggs.
The second week of May in the midwest usually
brought balmy weather, sunny days, warm
nights and refreshing spring rains - the perfect
time to till the soil for the family garden.
The month of May also had other pleasures
in store for Grandma and her family. Several
hot humid days, followed by sudden thunder
storms and ensuing rains, provided perfect
growing weather for the tasty fungi called
morels, members of the mushroom family. On
such a day she forgot her gardening plans, and
with her children, all carrying old maple sugar
buckets, tramped off to the woods in search of
a mess of morels for supper.
After spending hours during the winter in
the tool shed workshop, sawing new slats for
the grape arbor, designing a scarecrow, and
building hives for his bees. Grandpa was happy
to enlist the boys to help him out with the
Spades, hoes and rakes were sharpened, and
ready to prepare the soil, for according to
the Almanac and Grandma's reconin', it was the
right time to plant this and that. She consulted
the moon and stars, using the same timetable
she had learned from her mother as a
planting guide. Potatoes were planted on Good
Friday, and the first sowing of early peas
were put in under the new moon, in order to
afford the delicious combination of new peas
and potatoes by the Fourth of July. Time was
an important element. It was always a challenge
to see who would have the first ripe
tomato; grow the largest pumpkin, or the juicest
muskmelon, and Grandma was no slouch in
When the potato patch and the entire garden
had been spaded, raked and made into an ocean
of fine loam, it was marked out in rows, beds
and patches suitable for sowing and transplanting
seedlings from the hotbed under the
kitchen windows on the south side of the house.
The younger boys followed
behind Grandpa' s heels all day while the
garden was being spaded, using old tin tobacco
cans to pick up angleworms. When the
cans were filled they took off for the creek
to do some fishing before sundown. Their
poles were switches, cut from an old willow
tree; the lines taken from the ball of
store string; and the wire hooks were baited
with lively angle worms and dropped into the
clear spring-fed water. "A nice mess of sunfish
will be a pleasant change from side pork
and cream gravy for supper tonight," Grandpa
remarked with confidence, as they trudged down
There was a kind of order to every bit of
Grandma's gardening. Rows were marked with
string attached to stakes; everything had to
be perfect in order to fit inside the wide
border of flower beds which framed the garden.
The asparagus bed claimed the northeast corner.
the grape arbor the northwest, and the
rhubarb bed another, leaving one corner for
that hot, snappy condiment, horse radish.
There were certain rules to follow in using
each of those garden products too. In fact,
Grandma considered them medications. Asparagus
in the spring to give the family much needed
iron; rhubarb sauce to cleanse the system of
something or other; horse radish to whet the
appetite, and grape juice to wash impurities
out of the blood. They must have had those
cleansing properties, for most of Grandma's
children lived to be 90 years of age or over.
Grandma was an earthy person who gardened
out of love. Her garden was her passion and
her pride, and when she enlisted the help of
her children to push the small fat bulbs of
onion sets into the ground, she demanded perfection.
The little bulbs had to be placed
two inches apart, and directly in a straight
line. She made the holes and counted out the
proper number of beans to be dropped into each
depression, then covered them as gently and
tenderly as putting a baby to bed. Radish,
lettuce, beet, parsley and spinich seeds were mixed
with sand and carefully sown in the row. Cabbage,
cauliflower, and kohlrabi transplanted from the hotbed had
their feet set in dampened soil, their heads
covered with little paper tarps, and their
backs supported with stakes. Dill and groundcherry
seeded themselves each year, and woe
unto anyone hoeing them off when they popped
up between the rows of the garden.
The boys followed Grandpa around the potato
patch and dropped two pieces of potato, each
with one or two eyes, into the ground. He then
covered them with his hoe and gave them a special
tap with the toe of his right foot. When
the entire garden was planted. Grandma stood
back with one hand leaning on the hoe handle;
the other on her hip, and gave the whole scene
an approving look.
Soon she would be enjoying compliments from
her friends and the neighbors driving by and
stopping to have a chat across the picket fence.
Now she had done her part, and she would let
the Lord take over. Tomorrow she would sow
and plant her flower garden. And, of course, Grandma
had the most beautiful flower garden I'm sure I had ever seen.
Then came the day when
the children rushed into the house with good news. "The
radises are up; the onions have green tops and
the beans are poking their pale heads up
through the crust of soil." Oh happy day,
in a short time they would be enjoying
another season of the best eating in the
world. In another
week more hurrahs came from inside the garden
fence , "Let's have wilted lettuce and bacon
tonight," or, "I'm having a radish sandwich."
To dip a bright red radish or a crisp green
onion into salt and pop it into a hungry mouth,
along with a slice of hot, home-baked bread,
was like sitting down to a royal banquet.
Right on the heels of those tasty treats from
the soil came the first picking of June peas.
"Don't wait too long Delia or they'll be too
old," Grandpa warned. Picking peas was a backbreaking
job. You lifted the tender vines,
selected only the pods with cases completely
filled, and avioded bumping off a blossom;
they would grow into the next picking of that
most delectable vegetable. The younger children
loved to watch Grandma press the firm pods
open, and push out the row of peas, counting
them as they rolled over her thumb. They waited
patiently for her to find a small pod of peas
to share with them.
Leafy vegetables such as spinich,
beet greens, and mustard greens required
several washings to remove
the sand. This work was assigned
to the boys. Everyone clamored to
have a turn at working the pump
handle up and down. The old pump
creaked and chortled as it spit out
cold water over a tub of greens,
and before the job was finished
the boys' clothes were soaked. Now
was the time to run, jump and splash in the
run-off water from the well, to cool hot toes
and wash dusty feet.
In those days Paris Green was the only
insecticide. The bright green powder was measured
into the watering can, stirred with a piece of
lath, and sprinkled on the vines to destroy
potato bugs. Grandma considering that an unnecesaary
expense, enlisted the help of the
children to use a stick to knock the potato
bugs into a tobacco can partially filled with
kerosene. The wages of one cent per hundred
speckled bugs was considered a generous pay
scale, and a careful count was made at the end
of the maneuver.
The day before the Fourth of July Grandpa
would take a bucket and the four tined fork
out of the woodshed, and go to the garden to
dig new potatoes. The children followed along
as he went down one row and up the next, first
digging, then pulling up the green vines to
shake off the loose soil and the last clinging
small potatoes. Then it was up to grubby,
little hands to dig into the ground to bring
up the treasure. Those first potatoes needed
only to be scraped of their thin, tender skins
before cooking, and tasted like fluffy manna,
after fresh churned butter or brown gravy was
The first pie-plant, or rhubarb as we call
it today, was made into pies and set out on
the window sills to cool. What a temptation
to hungry boys looking for a reward after weeding
the garden! Somehow they managed to stay
off their appetites by chewing stalks of raw
rhubarb dipped into a shirt pocket containing
a handful of salt.
Summer and autumn brought more delicious
from Grandma's garden. Pole and lima beans;
summer, acorn, and hubbard squash; and juicy
red and yellow tomatoes followed in close or der. At times the children sat under
a shade tree to rest from their labor,
chewing on crisp orange carrots,
pulled from the ground and wiped with
a dusty hand, or munched on a juicy red tomato.
Grandma had a "knack" for testing a
ripe and ready muskmelon. She picked
it up, vine attached, pressed her thumb on the
blossom end, and smelled of the skin to test
it for ripeness. When cut open, the seeds were
scooped out to expose the pinkish, yellow interior,
and its goodness spilled from the inside.
She also knew when grapes were ready.
It was fun to stand in the cool shade of the
grape arbor to help Grandma pick a basket of
purple grapes, for eating, making jelly, or
ready to press for wine.
One of the greatest rewards of gardening was
the harvesting of sweet corn. A bushel of ears
snapped from the stalk, husked and silked, was
hardly enough to make a meal for a large family.
Steaming hot from the kettle; frosted
with fresh churned butter; crunched row after
row, it disappeared in a hurry. Sometimes the
children hardly swallowed between bites.
"You're eatn' like hogs, and en joy in' every
minute of it," Grandpa remarked as he used a
sharp knife to slice the tender kernels from
a cob. "I'll ease the wear and tear on my
false teeth," he said in an attempt to explain
There was another greater reward from the
garden for the whole family - the canning, drying
and preserving of vegetables and fruits
for winter use. Nothing ever went to waste in
Grandma's day. She faithfully carried out the
old slogan passed down in her family for generations
- "Waste not - want not."
The shelves of the fruit cellar were lined
with mason jars of peas, carrots, corn and
tomatoes. Other shelves held plums, cherries,
apple sauce, and raspberry and
groundcherry jams. Pears
peaches, apples and sweet corn
were dried on trays of cheese
cloth set out in the sun, then
tied up in cloth flour sacks
and hung in the attic. The last
pick of the garden before frost
came was used for a mixed relish
called "chow-chow" or "pick-a-
dilly." Its contents were a
combination of cucumbers, corn, celery, red
and green peppers, and the proper amount of
sugar, vinegar and spicy seasonings. Even the
green tomatoes were salvaged and found their
way into a delicious mince meat for pies.
Grandma truly gardened out of necessity.
She grew her garden to feed her family.
Although her products
the County Fair, she
winner each time her
were never exhibited at
was judged a blue ribbon winner each time her
savory foods appeared on the table.
Some of her descendants will never step
through the gate of Grandma's garden; enjoy
tilling of virgin soil; the planting and harvesting,
or taste the freshness of vegetables
only minutes from the garden patch to the dinner
table. Nor will they breathe the fragrance
of mint, thyme and sage wafted up on the night
air, or see the rainbow of colors created by
the variety of flowers grown around the border
"inside the picket fence."
Perchance in a generation or two, circumstances
may be altered, and more people may
be obliged to return to the soil for their
sustenance. In that event, they will taste
self-cultivated vegetables, the fruits of their
labors, earned by the sweat of the brow.
Like Grandma, they will enjoy the worthwhile
experience of "Living off the land." Then
they too may sing with the Psalmist as Grandma
did: "He causeth the grass to grow for
the cattle, the herb for the service of man;
that he may bring forth food out of the earth.".....
Grandma and Grandpa's Home
"To A Wild Rose"
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