Just before the Great Depression began to take hold, a new baby was born in Echols County, Georgia in the mid-1920s. The oppressive August heat was no match for the competing humidity, and you could barely hear yourself think for all the gnats swarming around your head. As I would lovingly call her many years later, Grandy, my grandmother, grew up on her family farm in rural southern Georgia, a place where the pine trees grew tall like matchsticks and the baked soil yielded the most delicious vegetables.
Papa, my great-grandfather, and I, ca. 1982.
I remember visiting the farm often, surrounded by family and opportunities to appreciate the land. We gathered in the heat of summer to shuck and silk piles and piles of corn under the 200-year-old oak trees while Grandy and her sister creamed the ears, letting the sweet milk run from each kernel into the green plastic tubs. Others would be inside waiting to receive the tubs of creamed corn, ready to heat them over the stove, cool them, and then freeze them for a year’s worth of eating. Of course, a healthy portion was kept aside for eating that night at dinner.
Summer would also mean finding the rickety old ladder from the shed and the tin can creatively nailed to a long wooden pole to harvest the pineapple pears. Each pear would become a preserve, a jar of relish, a pie, or perhaps an afternoon snack as you sat in the grass, wiping the sweat from your brow.
Grandy underneath the pear tree at the farm. Echols County, Georgia. Summer, 2004.
We gathered every February to prune rows and rows of wild grape vines, preparing them for spring growth. The muscadines, the scuppernongs, and the others we didn’t know the name for but loved to eat. The juice would run down your chin as you spit the thick skin into the grass.
My older cousin and I planted white dogwood trees at the farm. We named them Ozzy and Harriet, but I couldn’t begin to tell you why. If I remember correctly, Ozzy didn’t quite make it, but Harriet pulled through and is hopefully still growing strong.
And so, the farm was a place that held early memories of family fun and later memories of just Grandy and I. As I grew older and went to college, it was often just Grandy and I. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends all lived close, but most nights were watching television in the den and weekends meant a trip to the grocery store and always the farmers market.
Grandy by the grapevines. Echols County, Georgia. Summer, 2004.
Carter’s Produce, the local farm market, was the only place she’d go since she never quite trusted the source at the “other” places. It was an open-air warehouse with piles of fruits and vegetables. It was there, under skilled direction, that I learned how to pick the perfect tomato, test cantaloupe, shell acre peas, pick the least-stringy sweet potatoes, select the most tender okra, and to always grab a bag of peanuts for later boiling. I didn’t know it at the time, but perhaps these transfers of knowledge would prove more meaningful than I could have imagined at the time.
Almost nine years after Grandy’s passing, when it came time to look at White Plains as a new home, it was hard to keep the farm in Georgia out of my mind. The farm that now felt lost to me could somehow be reborn. New traditions, new families, and new opportunities for the land.
As I selected plants for my first year’s garden, there were easy answers – those that I remembered most fondly growing up and new ones to learn from. I excitedly harvested my first acre peas this year and couldn’t wait to shell them. As my fingers ran along their edge, pushing the small green and white peas from their shell, I was transported back to Grandy’s round kitchen table where I first learned how to make it all work.
My first harvest of acre peas. Summer, 2015.