Spring has sprung!
After a winter that was more like a continuation of autumn (minus the falling leaves), spring has stepped out and thrown a verdant blanket over everything in sight. The weather, already unseasonably warm, has grown still warmer, and temperatures that seldom appear until late June are boldly strutting forth. Already, the thermometer has topped out over eighty degrees several days, and the older residents shake their heads and grumble to each other, “Never seen it this warm in April.” It was almost this warm last year in May, but the intervening winter weather wasn’t cold enough to make them appreciate hot weather; so they spin the dial on their home thermostats and grumble. “Never seen it so hot this early…shut the door, Frankie! We ain’t coolin’ the whole outdoors, for cryin’ out loud!” Five-year-old Frankie, startled by Grampa Jim’s sudden command, hurriedly slams the door on three of his fingers. Loud wails ensue, and Grammaw rushes to console him with an orange creamsicle. Grampa settles deeper into his leather armchair, grumbling to himself, “Even the kids are grumpy, it’s so hot,” and he turns the TV up so he can hear, which means anybody else trying to talk has to shout over the newscaster’s voice blaring from the set.
It’s been warm all month, but some of the good ol’ boys are shaking their heads about the unseasonably warm weather. The dogs lie panting in the shade cast by the trucks, and the fellas stand around with their boots (well-worn, muddy Justin, Red Wing, & Irish Setter) on the running-boards, muttering about record temperatures, high and low, spitting tobacco juice and expressing uncertainty about the weather holding. “I dunno,” one proclaims around a chaw of Red Man, “This warm this early…we’re liable to have a late cold spell here directly.” (In rural NC, “directly” means “in a short [but unspecified] amount of time,” not “in a direct manner.”) “Quit your yammerin’, Blake,” grumbles Ken, “I’ve already got my garden in.”
It’s been hot, but the rains have been regular, and everything’s growing like weeds. At the Crain house, the garden is growin’ to beat the band…and the weeds are growin’ to beat the garden. Dad walks through the garden, noting the growth of veggies and weeds, the faithful and the interlopers, and at the supper table that night, he announces that tomorrow is weed-pulling day (“There will be a family-wide weed-pull tomorrow, from 8AM-until; bring a hat, a hoe, and a good attitude…”) to a stifled, collective groan.
Weed-pulling means scratching at the dirt with hoes, cultivators, sticks, fingers…in short, anything that allows for digging out of weeds—roots and all—without harming the vegetables. It means crawling up and down—on dirt that is like an iron skillet, it gets so hot—beside row after row of tiny veggie plants, ousting the vile weeds, and before long the boys make a game of it. The good plants are their army, and they’re the mighty generals in command (except mighty generals don’t crawl on hands and knees through the dirt, they ride astride fine horses, wearing fine uniforms and wonderful hats; they look calm and aloof, and say wonderful, grown-up things like, “Now, what are the consequences of going through with this endeavor?” that’s what generals do) and then Mom calls from the deck, “Lunch!” and the boys clear the chest-high chain-link fence in a single bound, they’re so hungry.
Lunch is good, and there’s plenty of food for everybody, but Joseph & Nathan always ask for more. “Please, Mom, may we have some more, please?” Dad looks up from his first helping, “You can wait…some of us haven’t finished our firsts yet. Besides, you won’t starve to death if you don’t have more.” Joseph—feeling somewhat bold since Dad is 10 feet away and there are three people between them—starts grumbling, but Josiah shushes him in a hurry: “Whatsa matter witcha, ya got a death wish or somethin’? When I was your age, I ate like a pregnant moose…but I worked like a horse.” Then dinner’s over and the boys march back out to the garden to finish weeding, thinking on the way of horses that eat like pregnant mooses (meese? moose?) and sound a lot like Josiah.
It’s hot, and everything’s growing, and the boys’ pants get shorter in the leg as if by magic (“It’s like they’re drinking Miracle-Gro,” Mom sighs). Dress shirts get tight in the shoulders, and shoes pinch so they kick them off every chance they get.
Josiah is leasing a parcel of land just down the road, and he & Dad sit in the living room, after meals and until long after bedtime, talking farm names, plants to grow, fertilizer-to-acre ratios, and what sort of animals to raise and how to grow the food for them. “We have to grow our own forages,” Dad states emphatically, “because non-GMO foods are prohibitively expensive,” and Josiah nods in agreement, while the others scratch their heads and wonder what GMO is, anyway.
Well, that’s the news from Ellenboro, where the roads are never straight, the stores are small, the people are friendly–and the traffic lights are so close together, if you sneeze you’ll run ’em both.