By PETTUS READ
With spring days being as wet as they have been lately, the activity in gardens has been mighty slow. Uncle Sid always told me that if you wait until right after tax time to start putting out your crop, both you and the taxman would be better off next year.
As I looked through a display of brightly colored packaged seeds at Kelton's store the other day, I saw some okra that reminded me of Uncle Sid. Okra is one item that Uncle Sid considers a weed and one day I discovered he and Aunt Sadie had totally different views on the plant. It was also a day I was taught a lesson or two about politics.
It was a spring day fit for planting a garden. The late April sky was overcast, the humidity somewhat high and the white frame farmhouse of the old couple was totally dark. When I arrived I knew exactly where they were.
I walked on around the house to the backyard, and sure enough, there they were in the middle of a family discussion at the beginning of a newly planted row in their closely manicured vegetable garden. Aunt Sadie saw me first and met me rubbing her hands on her apron so she could give me a hug without soiling my clothes. After exchanging pleasantries and taking my place at the beginning of the garden row being planted by the two aged agriculturalists, Aunt Sadie asked my opinion on when does it become too much okra when you are planting your garden. Seems that had been the discussion the two were involved in when I arrived and I had become a third party in determining what amount of the green podded plant was to go in this year's garden on their farm. Uncle Sid had said nothing, which indicated he was not at all in agreement with Aunt Sadie's plans for the afternoon, and it also sent up a red flag to me on how I should be answering the question. I knew he was the head of the household on this farm, but I also knew that Aunt Sadie was the neck that controlled the direction of the head. Plus, there was the smell of a freshly baked cobbler coming from the kitchen's windowsill just a few yards away and I didn't want to miss any of that dish later.
Being a college graduate, a newly elected county commissioner and a direct descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, I said, "There is never too much okra, is there? What do you think Uncle Sid?" Boy, was I out educated and birth righted with his answer.
Leaning on his garden hoe and kicking a dirt clod with his old brogan, he answered, "It's a known fact that common or uncommon insects won't even eat okra. If a bug won't even eat it, why should we? It is related to cotton and hibiscus plants, which don't sound very appetizing, plus, when you boil it the stuff turns into something sort of like pond scum."
From those statements, I got the feeling the old man was not very interested in planting okra. But, as I glanced at Aunt Sadie, I saw a look from her eyes, bypassing me and going straight to the source of the recent comments on okra. Uncle Sid saw that look as well, and he, too, was receiving the same vibes as I was from that little white-haired lady with her hands placed firmly on her hips.
"But you know," he said rubbing his chin, "Okra fried in good Martha White cornmeal and placed alongside Sadie's homegrown tomatoes can't be beat. Boy (he still calls me boy even though I'm 66 years old), okra can be boiled, pickled, steamed and fried. And the interesting thing is that it still tastes like okra no matter what you do to it. It arrived in these parts way back in 1806, and if it had not been for okra seeds during the last days of the War of Northern Aggression, our kin folks wouldn't have had a replacement for coffee when times got real tough. In fact, just thinking about a good cup of coffee and Sadie's cobbler over yonder in the kitchen window makes me want to plant both those rows of okra that Sadie 'suggested' a few minutes ago. What do you think Miss Sadie?"
Later that afternoon the cobbler was certainly good and it's amazing what can be done in the garden when it involves a cobbler and a stern look from a headstrong little old lady.
-Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org