Ash Fork Madness©️
Nana Cook and Charlotte Madison
copyright 2019 Nana Cook and Charlotte Madison
“Charle, do ya’ll remember the day y’all decided to have a garden and plant them God damned strawberries?”
Instantly I was filled with memories and recalled the painful birth of “my” garden.
I had hit the soil with a shovel and it had skidded off. The earth behind our house was so hard and dry that I could not penetrate it, so I sat down on the ground and began to chip at it with a trowel.
“CHARLE! WHAT THE HAYLL’RE Y’ALL A DOIN?”
I looked up and met G.B.’s frown with an enthusiastic smile, “I’m planting strawberries G.B.. Shirley gave me some plants.” I added gleefully, “You and I are going to be eating big, red, home grown strawberries before you know it.” I was so excited. “G.B., my parents had a summer cottage on acreage at White Rock. One year Pop planted long rows of raspberries and Mum planted a strawberry patch in a spot they called the peat bog. I learned from watching her how to make a strawberry patch a real success.”
“God damn it Charle! Look at y’all peckin’ at that ground with a trowel and then puttin’ in a plant to be strangled in all that caliche!”
I pouted as I felt my ecstasy wash away. “I’ll add manure G.B.. I just don’t have any right now, but I will get a few bucketsful from the horses out past the first cattle guard. This soil will be really rich!”
“Charle, stop what y’all’re a-doin’. Oh Hayll, don’t cry! Dammit! I’ll do it myself! I’ll make y’all a damned ol’ garden.”
“I don’t want a garden G.B.. I just want to do something myself. I want my own little strawberry patch. I want to do something my way. It isn’t hurting you to let me dig here. Please?”
“Charle I was raised on a farm an’ helped my mother raise food ‘nough for eight people in her garden patch. I know what I am a-doin‘ — an’ we’ll do it right!”
As he walked away I muttered softly, “I don’t want to make a garden. I have enough to do. I don’t want to do it right – I want to do it my way. I just want a strawberry patch. My own little patch where I make all the decisions.” And then I strolled inside the house to make our Saturday lunch.
As G.B. savoured his meal he said thoughtfully, “Tomorrow make us a picnic, Charle. We’re a-goin’ out to Connie and Wayne’s place with the pick up — to get us a truck load a manure. Soon as we finish lunch let’s go get some men an’ a bunch a’ the ties I bought from the railroad. Then I’ll get Huff to diggin’ up some top soil down to the stone yard. Mmm, then I’ll bring li’l Oliver over to work on y’all’s garden.”
Three hours later the ties were laid out in a large rectangle, several ties high, and G.B. was making trips back and forth through town, bouncing along on Huff, the front end loader. On each trip Huff’s bucket was filled with dark, fine looking topsoil which G.B. would dump within the ties’ boundary, and then the men he had recruited would shovel it into place. After supervising the shoveling G.B. would then head off for another load. After the top soil reached to the top of the ties G.B. dumped the last load outside the ties, dashed away and moments later returned on Oliver, a miniature bulldozer. G.B. used his last load of top soil to make a ramp, and then he drove Oliver up and over the ties, leaving it parked and at the ready for Sunday’s duties.
First thing early Sunday morning we headed out into the Juniper, on-loaded more agedmanure, returned to town and rendezvoused behind our house with the “recruits.”
Well, I thought, this isn’t what I wanted, but G.B. has certainly found something to play with. He really is having fun — with my garden. By evening it looked very inviting.
“CHARLE, WHAT THE HAYLL Y’ALL A-DOIN’ WITH THEM BAGS?”
“Oh G.B.,” I replied with a trace of impatience in my voice. “I’m going to start planting the strawberries.”
“Charle, it ain’t ready yet! I have to measure out the rows, an’ dig the trenches an’ run water into ‘em ‘till they won’t hold no more. Y’all get the string an’ tape measure, an’ start to cuttin’ a whole bunch a’ fifteen inch sticks from that pile a’ one by ones.”
A tape measure? The man is a fanatic!
Eventually G.B. completed work on “my” garden and the long, straight, uniform rows of dark and saturated fertile soil lured me out the back door. I was armed with a huge basket filled to overflow with little brown paper bags from which tender green seedlings protruded, net bags through which sprouting onion sets poked and colourful seed bags that declared for all to see wild and wonderful plants that soon would appear.
“CHARLE! WHAT THE HAYLL Y’ALL A-DOIN?” G.B. called out as he ran toward me from the kitchen door. “Charle, what the HAYLL y’all a-doin’?” He repeated with painful restraint.
I threw my face down onto the soil, totally beaten and whined, “I’m planting strawberries G.B.!”
“God dammit Charle, y’all don’t lay down in the manure to plant a garden. Ya’ll’re a-messin’ up m’rows. Y’all bend or squat! An’ y’all don’t start with strawberries! Against the sidewalk y’all need a nice solid hedge a’ green onions. Y’all’ll be runnin’ out the door usin’ a lot of ‘em, so y’all want ‘em handy. Now,” he said with great relish, “Put y’all’s first hole right . . . here. Where’s y’all’s dibble?”
At that I burst out laughing, “I used to call my baby Dibble. What’s a dibble?”
With a great deep sigh he walked off and returned with a stick he had sharpened into a point, “Here’s y’all’s damn dibble. Now poke a hole — thar. Next poke a hole — thar. Use the trowel to measure with, an’ the third hole goes — thar. Now just keep a-goin’ till the row’s filled.”
Every plant and seed had to be perfectly planted, and each planted a different way.
As I began to pour carrot seeds into the soil G.B. began to scream, “GOD CHARLE Y’ALL’RE STUPID! Ever’ one of them li’l thangs is a foot long carrot an’ y’all pour fifty in one spot! Now look, my mother used to get some sand and shake it in with the seeds then gently tap out a little bitty mess at a time.” He smiled, looking hopefully into my face.
G.B. followed me down each row, coaching, reprimanding, nagging, and then writing the name of each seed row, or line of tiny seedlings on a little stick which he then, with artful precision, pressed into the earth at the end of each row.
The new garden was bounded by the driveway along the north, west and south sides, and edged on the south and east side by a flagstone path and three foot high planters made from Sun Valley Pink schist. While G.B. waited for me to finish planting he filled the planters with the soil he had dumped for the ramp, and then announced. “I’m a-gonna make a deal with Cactus’ family fer his manure. I want y’all to get some big Russian Sunflowers an’ put ‘em in this planter. My daddy used always to plant sunflowers by our mother’s cookin’ garden. An’ get ye twelve packs of Zinnias fer a hedge of flowers along the north edge of y’all’s garden, there by the land.”
Twelve packs! And he worried about a carrot seed. What a toot!
Just before dinnertime, arm in arm we looked out the kitchen window as the sun set on our beautiful garden.
“It’s gorgeous Honey. Thank you for all you did G.B.. I thought you were mean and crazy.” To which he frowned in surprise, “But it is beautiful and perfect — just like the Chinese truck gardens at home.”
G.B. smiled devotedly saying, “I like to see y’all happy Charle, an’ do thangs to please y’all. It’s been a lot of work Suguh. I’m real tired but we’ll enjoy to go out in an evenin’, set an’ water it, an’ watch it all growl Won’t be no time till first seeds show, an’ those are good plants we put in. Y’all’s garden is goin’ to be real fine Sweetheart.”
And fine it was. People regularly drove onto our property and past our vegetable garden on summer evenings just to watch the garden’s progress, enjoy the giant waving sunflowers, the quivering hedge of fiery zinnias and the huge lush plants that thrived in the Arizona sunshine.
“My” strawberry patch was surrounded by rows of carrots, peas, corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, spuds, onions, lettuce, spinach, beets, cabbage, okra , broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pumpkins, eggplant, cantaloupes, peanuts, watermelons and peppers galore. In one of the schist planters we had the garden’s first harvest — radishes and tiny cukes.
And on the sneak, out by the burning barrel, in an unused planter, I had thrown a little left over soil and spuds into the hard pink gravely soil. My garden! And that grew well too!
. . .
I MENTIONED CACTUS THE BURRO BUT I MAY HAVE FORGOTTEN TO TELL YOU WHO HE WAS.
WHEN G..B. RENTED A HOUSE A FEW BLOCKS AWAY FROM OUR HOUSE HE BARGANED WITH THE TENANT. “Y’ALL CAN KEEP CACTUS IN Y’ALL’S GARDEN IN TRADE FOR HIS MANURE. I WILL USE IT AT MY RENTAL HOUSES.”
SOMETIMES THE TENNANT TETHERED HIM TO GRAZE ON A WEEDY TRIANGLE WHERE OLD ROUTE 66 SPLIT TO EAST AND WEST THROUGH TOWN. ON OCCASION WHEN WEEDS WERE HIGH LORRAINE WOULD TAKE ME, SET UP MY CHAIR EASLE AND PAINTS THEN LEAVE ME THERE TO PAINT AND PET SWEET CACTUS.
HAVE YOU EVER HEARD A BRAYING BURRO?
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN CLOSE BESIDE A BRAYING BURRO?
LOCALS WERE ACCUSTOMED TO CACTUS, BUT WHEN I WAS LOST IN THOUGHT CLOSE AGAINST OR PAINTING HIM, HE WOULD SUDDENLY COMMENT ABOUT NOTHING IN PARTICULR SO LOUDLY AND PROLONGED, THAT IT SHATTERED MY BRAIN AND MY SCREAM OUTDID HIS BRAY.
WHEN STARTLED, I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A SCREAMER SO OUR DUET TERRIFYED EAST AND WEST BOUND TRAFFIC - AND HIS MANURE MADE THE SWEETEST CORN, SPONDIFEROUS VEDGTABLES AND . . . STRAWBERRIES!