The sweltering-summer sun beat down unmercifully in the South where I grew up. It must have been 140-degrees out there in Mama’s hundred-acre garden…or at least 95 in the shade, but there wasn’t one-single shadow of shade out there. There were large shade trees in the yard, and plenty of them all along our creek bank where a boy could be fishing, but not a single one in the hundred-acre garden. I’m sure there had been trees out there once upon a time, but, no doubt, Mama had them all cut and the spot cleared. Not even the remnant of a stump was left for me to lean my poor-exhausted body against, weakened by all that work, before I hit the ground! My curly-blonde hair was soaked with sweat. It poured down my face and ran off the tip of my nose like an Olympic ski jumper off the end of a ramp. That hoe handle, and the wooden handles of a push plow, had caused blisters on my tender-young hands that were about the size of the watermelons we grew! The blisters were about that size, not my hands. I felt quite certain I would die out there, at any moment, right between the rows of butterbeans, before Mama found me, or I ever had a chance to go fishing again.
Yes, you are partly correct in your thoughts. Mama didn’t believe it all either. While I may be using my “writer’s license” to exaggerate the situation, ever so slightly, it really was hot out there. Mama’s garden actually was about half-an-acre, but to a boy who didn’t want to be working in a garden in the first place, it seemed like a hundred. She grew enough vegetables and melons out there to feed Pharaoh’s army…plus our small family!
Every Spring, she hired Mr. Reuben Strange, to drive his old Ford tractor from his house, a good 5-miles from ours, to break up her garden. She checked the signs on her almanac calendar, but usually most things were in the ground before Easter. I looked at the almanac calendar too, but I was checking to see which days were good fishing days. I would fish even on the bad days, but I didn’t have my hopes quite as high. By the time things were rising up from the ground, so was the temperature. Have you picked up on the fact that I didn’t want to be out there in the hundred-acre garden? I had one thing on my mind…fishing. Okay, there was swimming also. The ideal day to me was to go fish first and when the fish quit biting, jump in the water. The order was important because if you swam first, you scared off the fish. Mama’s ideal day was picking peas…she and me. She wouldn’t even let me go to the house for a drink of cold water. Instead, she took a gallon-jar of ice water to the garden. I think the times I had gone to the house for a drink and then headed to the creek rather than returning to the garden, may have influenced her decision. She used other methods, lovingly, she said, that I did not approve of or enjoy, to influence my future decisions.
Every year, when Mother’s Day rolls back around, I think about those long-gone days with her. Now days, my, how I would love to pick peas with her one more time. I would even give up fishing and swimming to do so! Happy Mother’s Day in heaven Mama. Happy Mother’s Day to the rest of you down here.
— Bill King is a native of Rainsville, where he and his wife graduated from Plainview High School. King is a director of missions in Opelika, a writer, musician and author. His column appears in the Times-Journal weekend edition. Visit brobillybob.com for more information.