“I’ve Never Seen A Real Live Tractor”

12 May

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Billy driving his "real live tractor"

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.

The perfect tree. Photo by Kelle Mac Photography

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


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9 responses to ““I’ve Never Seen A Real Live Tractor”

  1. anaraquel11

    May 12, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    I loved the article and can relate to it, because I have been there and had a blast visiting Billy and Renea!!!
    Great article!!!

  2. Velvet Sims

    May 13, 2011 at 4:03 am

    I can so relate to this blog. Seems like folks want to reap the rewards without the sweat! I am so glad that Billy is able to share his love of farming and gardening. Today children believe that produce comes from the back of the store! I love reading about exploits on the farm!

  3. Monica Cook

    May 13, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    My husband just started a new garden this year, I never had a garden before…starting to see our tomatoes bloming! would love to win one of those seeds!

  4. Marianne L.

    May 13, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Hey, I love the comment about the “real live tractor” 😉 Also, I chuckled over the terminology you chose for Matthew’s job (prestigous)–too funny! I really enjoy reading about your gardening adventures and your sweet friendship. It’s wonderfuly Billy is passing down his knowledge to younger generations too. I’d like some of the volunteer tomato plants, unfortunately though, I’m in Indiana now. I’ll be in NC in June if there’s any chance you’ll be “home” also. Really, I want to find some old fashioned “Tommy toes” like my grandparents had, we used to pick and eat them right away, standing by where they were growing. I missed reading your blog as we’ve been really busy here lately. 🙂 Keep on typing 🙂

  5. Kay

    May 14, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    My volunteer tomatoes are usually cherry tomatoes, but this year I had a yellow beefsteak!

  6. shellierushingtomlinson

    May 16, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Wonderful post, Renea! Enjoyed the read. 🙂

  7. growing beans

    May 17, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    What a great article! Very interesting and fun to read. Keep it up!

  8. Patty Hicks

    May 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    What a fun garden tale! Kids are the best to garden with. They always say the craziest things and show so much honest wonder about the world around them. The number of volunteer toms you noted had me in stitches though. I’m still chuckling as I remember one year here we had a couple hundred (that’s a lot up here in Oregon).


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