I would, however, like to mention the wood ashes you should collect if you have wood fires. Ashes strewn over a garden work wonders. The ashes provide potash and just about all perennials benefit from the potash. The best way to keep ashes over the winter is in large buckets. Use metal buckets with tight lids if possible. Or you could let ashes cool completely and put them in plastic buckets. It is of no benefit to pile them on the ground since the potash will leach out with rains. I have used ashes all over a perennial garden but I have noticed the biggest difference in roses with the additional potash the ashes provided.
Since there’s nothing important going on in our gardens, this is a good time for going back to a wonderful time many, many years ago when we celebrated Christmas with our grandparents, my mother’s mother and father. There was never any question about where we three sisters and Mama and Daddy would be come Christmas. The question might be whether we dared take our cat and dog. Ma would never say no to us but we knew the cat wasn’t really welcome. He had once proved to have bad manners on her good bedspread. But, being Ma, she “never let on”.
If I was lucky, I got to go to their house a week or two earlier and I thought I was helping her. We had so much to do. There were the big Phillipine coconuts to grate and I loved to do that chore. Ma let me break open the coconuts, peel the white meat and then grate it. That is, until my fingers bled a tiny bit on her coconut and she took over that job. They had no refrigerator but the back porch was as good as any refrigerator. Anything that could be done ahead of time went to the back porch shelves.
Pa would stack logs on the long front porch plus several backlogs. He would also have a great pile of stove wood for her kitchen range. At night he and I would crack walnuts on the old flat iron used only for that purpose. Then we would pick out walnut meats for Ma’s cakes and/or candy. I remember that she had several horseshoe nails kept just for picking out nut meats. At Ma’s, everything had a place so we always knew where to find the irons and nails.
This time was many, many years before Ma and Pa got a radio and their immediate news came from the neighborhood telephone. That phone was not for chatting but for important calls. I remember once, when Pa had seen a mad dog going up the little road by his barn and on to Mr. Cannon’s, he rang their phone to tell them the dog would be at their house in minutes. Mr. Cannon answered and said, “Ain’t nobody here to answer the phone.” And he hung up. Pa rang again and yelled at him, “Don’t you hang up, you old fool, there’s a mad dog coming toward your house.” There was a word I left out in that last sentence. There was a way to call the doctor in the next county. You rang a number of a lady who lived on the county line and had access to both counties. She would, then, place the call to a doctor in that next county. Sometime it worked and sometime it didn’t. My job was to always unhook the telephone line on the front porch if it stormed. Ma couldn’t reach the disconnect and I could hop up on a shelf and reach it.
This is the same Mr. Cannon who came to the house one day and asked Pa if he could borrow Miss Sally’s enema bag. Ma brought it to him and he left. He came back in a few days and Ma asked, “And how is Mary?” to which he replied, “Tain’t Mary was sick. Got a calf with the scours”. He left and Ma only said two words to Pa, “Burn it.”
Ma had a lot to do to get ready for the whole family to be home for Christmas. She picked out the old hen, usually one that had quit laying eggs, that was going to get the ax. Except for coconuts, almost everything that was put on the table came from their farm.
But Ma was an excellent housekeeper and everything was scrubbed, polished, washed and ironed and shined for the big week of Christmas. She would be feeding a lot of people, both on Christmas day and all during the following week. But she was so organized that most of the work was done at least two weeks before the big day.
I had my part to play if I was lucky enough to be at her house during the week or two before Christmas. Those were wonderfully happy days so many years ago. I am grateful to those two dear people for the things they taught me which will be a column for next week.
Thanks to those who have called recently. Please feel free to call me at 270-522-3632 and you can order one of my gardening books by sending a check for $13.50 to Ronella Stagner, 137 Main St., Cadiz, KY 42211.