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Seventy something Billy Albertson “arises from the bed” Wednesday morning much like he’s done for years. He’s a bit slower now as he buckles his overalls into place. Time may have slowed him a bit, but he can still out-work most of his “helpers.”
Wednesday Morning 8:00 am
I have considered outing all those who have volunteered to help at Billy’s farm but haven’t actually shown up. Many people, after reading In The Garden With Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes, sent messages to my inbox with offers of help. However, now that it’s time to chunk a few seeds into the Georgia clay these would-be helpers remain mysteriously absent.
Don’t worry, they’ll return come harvest time.
Planting is the time when helpers are most needed. After a long winter filled with sedentary work, it is common for elderly – and not so elderly- farmers to collapse with a heat stroke. Hence my multiple Facebook requests for helpers.
Wednesday Morning 9:45 am
I had planned on arriving early, before the heat waves awoke and rose from the clay. Instead I needed to wait for my own laundry to finish so I could hang it on the line. I also needed to prepare a lunch large enough so Billy could have it for dinner. I arrived at a quarter till ten to find Kelle Mac and her three children already hard at work.
Relieved, I placed the lunch makings in the fridge and secured my hair with a scrunchie.
Today on the agenda: bean planting, cucumber planting, tomato planting and whatever-else-needs-planting. Billy divided the jobs according to ability: my son Matthew was assigned the prestigious job of manure shoveling, Kelle and her oldest dropped seeds while the younger two “poked” them into the ground. I worked in the “organic” section of the garden; an area nearest the house where several varieties of heirloom tomatoes were to be planted.
Billy, of course, drove the tractor, and worked the shovel as needed.
In a blink, two hours had passed. Lunch consisted of fresh-caught pike and fried bologna sandwiches served on Kelle’s just-made bread. Kelle determined that the garden greens (which Billy can’t eat) needed to be harvested and sold. This could mean only one thing. A sign. Using a sharpie, I wrote G-R-E-E-N-S in oversized lettering, the boys did the rest.
Back in the garden, Kelle and I are on Pecan patrol. She wants a Pecan tree of her very own and Billy’s squirrels have adequately provided trees by hoarding nuts in the ground then promptly forgetting where they buried them.
After locating the perfect seedling and placing it into a used tin can, it’s time to get busy weeding. To see images she captured of the day click here
Currently, kale, chard, and ten thousand four hundred twenty-two “volunteer” tomatoes are growing in the organic garden. Billy and I are certain they are all “cherry tomatoes.” Since I do not have the heart to toss them out, I’ve determined to replant them and carry them with me to book signings this month. Kelle is checking with the mission in Atlanta to see if they have a community garden. As an aside: if you are interested in getting some of these tomato plants contact me immediately…if not sooner. Billy calls them “wonder plants;” cause we wonder what they’ll be. Regardless of what they are, they are organic.
With beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes planted we carry our dirty feet to the car so Billy can take his daily nap. Matthew and I leave. The temperature reads 93 degrees.
Many hours, and one shower later, I’m at church. Its’ time to teach the youth. Tonight there are only three gals. Last week Lisa (name changed) volunteered to teach the class. Her plan: a trip to Billy’s. A show of hands reveals a unanimous vote: we’re going. With a glance toward their shoes I explained there is “real work to be done.”Taking three fifth grade girls to Billy’s to WORK is unheard of in today’s world. “I’ve never seen a tomato plant before,” someone says. I’ve determined that when presented with a job, each “helper” rises to the occasion and goes over and above what anyone would expect.
“Someone’s here!” one of the girls shout.
“Someone’s always here,” I replied, while still working.
Carolyn arrives bearing “left over” tomatoes which she doesn’t have room to plant in her garden. Fortunately, Carolyn (name changed) is an organic gardener. Billy and I have the perfect place for them. Two minutes later, he’s on the tractor “making a fur” (that’s a furrow for those who speak proper garden talk).
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen a real live tractor,” one of the girls says.
Each young lady not only sees, but plants several tomatoes. All wear smiles. Their parents should be proud.
“Oh dear, it’s almost 8 o’clock,” someone says. “We’ve got to get back to church. My mother will be waiting.”
Time flies when you’re helping someone who owns a real live tractor.
The girls load into my car just as Mohammed arrives. Drawn in by the G-R-E-E-N-S sign, he approaches carefully, not wishing to intrude. Hopefully, he’ll become bolder with his next visit. I direct him to Billy who is on hands and knees for the umpteenth time today.
Umpteenth means an indefinitely large number.
I promise Mohammed I’ll be back in a moment to help him pick greens. Then I drive to church, unload the girls, and return to the farm.
It’s decided that Mohammed needs Collards to go with the Kale, and onions to go with the greens. Of course, no meal is complete without garlic. Everything freshly picked, just-rinsed and delicious.
“This place is like a grocery store,” he says while holding a bulging sack.
I smile…so does Billy.
Carolyn must leave. Her baby chicks will be crying for their momma. Night time rituals are as difficult for chickens as they are children. Of course Carolyn won’t accept monetary payment for the donated plants. Instead, she leaves with two bags of greens. The perfect exchange.
This leaves just Billy and I.
“It’s good for children to come here. They need to learn what the farm can teach them.”
I nodd. We’ve had this conversation before. Dark is coming. We hurriedly plant the remaining plants. Dirt falls into my shoes, wedging between my toes. God is so great to have shown me this place where I can raise food for my family ! Using water captured from the heavens, we quench the thirst of the newly-planted tomatoes.
Sweaty hugs are shared. It is time for shower number two.
Renea Winchester is the author of the widely popular book titled: In The Garden With Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes which has been nominated for a SIBA award and GAYA. Learn more about her at www.reneawinchester.com