Category Archives: 1970s

Altheas, tiger lilies and grandfather’s beard

Purple AltheaAt our Willow Creek mini-farm in the 1970’s the yard was mostly pine trees and Charleston grass, with a few azalea bushes in front and a weeping willow in back.

Sparse, I thought, so I decided to add at least one of every bush and tree I’d ever liked in somebody else’s yard.

Wish list in hand, early one spring morning I visited a local garden shop.

First on my list was an althea, also known as the Rose of Sharon. The cashier explained that she was minding the register for someone else and had limited gardening knowledge, but she’d do her best to help me.

“What would an althea bush look like,” she asked? I described the ones I remembered that grew in front of Mimi’s front porch, a hedge of leafy bushes shading the porch from the afternoon sun.

The tall slender branches were covered with palm-sized lavender flowers. Every year new stalks sprouted up from the ground around the base of the parent bushes and Mimi let them grow, seldom bothering to prune the branches.

But the lady shook her head; she was sure they didn’t have any althea bushes. Perhaps a rose bush would do? I told her no, I had my heart set on an althea.

Bridalwreath SpireaOkay, I asked, how about a bridal wreath spirea? “What’s a spirea?” I said it would look something like a miniature weeping willow except that the long arching branches would be covered with tiny white flowers during blooming season.

Such graceful plants, they always had a calming effect on me just to look at them. Surely the shop had a spirea or two? “No, I’m sorry,” she apologized. I wrinkled my nose as I put an X by spirea on my list.

Handkerchief TreeI knew it was a long shot, but I asked if she’d ever heard of a handkerchief tree (Chinese dove). She hadn’t, and I myself had only seen one in this area, in a yard way out on Paul Jones Road. It was a beautiful medium-height tree sprinkled with large droopy white flowers.

But of course, the shop had no handkerchief tree either. Since then I’ve learned that they don’t usually survive this far south.

Sweetheart RoseOkay, they had rose bushes, how about a sweetheart climbing rose? Mimi had one in her back yard that bloomed for many months out of the year, crammed full of tiny pink blossoms. One of those would be pretty in my side yard.

But alas, they didn’t sell climbing roses, only the kind people put in vases. I was getting discouraged and the cashier was getting embarrassed, so I bought something I didn’t really want, a viney pot plant with multicolored green leaves.

I borrowed her phone book, flipped through the yellow pages and added a few other destinations to my shopping trip. I determined to visit every nursery and garden shop within driving distance, and in the 1970’s there weren’t many.

Grandfathers Beard BushMy luck was mixed to say the least. Some plants on my list I never did get, like a grandfather’s beard bush (left) and an exotic yellow-red tiger lily (below) like Mimi raised when I was little.

I did buy one potted gardenia bush that day, which didn’t survive being transplanted in my yard.

Tiger LilyEventually I added a few dogwoods, a flowering quince, wisteria, some Eisenhower cannas and a baby magnolia tree to my landscape. The magnolia didn’t live long, either — an enthusiastic young lawn-mower did it in.

We carefully planted an apple tree, peach tree and an old fashioned pear tree. They did pretty well, producing leaves but very little fruit in the next few years.

A friendly neighbor offered us a catalpa (catawba) tree which I politely declined. “We don’t fish enough to make it practical,” I explained. Many country fishermen planted catalpas to attract fishing worms, actually caterpillars that they picked off the trees like some kind of fruit. Ugh. No thanks.

Recently I researched the availability of some of my long-admired but never-owned plants and discovered I could purchase a grandfather’s beard tree, a tiger lily, an althea and even a handkerchief tree, all over the internet. I downloaded photos to use as screen-savers on my computer (sprinkled through these paragraphs as you’ve no doubt noticed).

One or two of them even come in brand-new “varieties” these days — plastic or silk, that is — but it just wouldn’t be the same.

The Blizzard of ’73

HogInSnowSooooie, pig, pig, pig!

Sooie was a friendly pig, at least we called her a pig, even though she must have weighed close to 300 pounds. We fed her grain, sometimes weeds, and housed her in a nice, roomy electric fenced pen with a soothing, cooling mud hole.

The children didn’t really look upon Sooie as pork chops, sausages and bacon, but that’s what she was. Groceries on the hoof.

Of course, it helped that the children weren’t as attached to Sooie as they were to the yard dogs and house cats, but to save everyone’s sensitivities, we never referred to hog-killing time around Sooie herself.

Things were going very well, Sooie was gaining appropriate poundage and we were anticipating sugar-cured hams and real hickory smoked, vinegar and hot sauce-based barbecue, when it happened.

The Blizzard of ’73. One February morning we awoke to a wonderland of snow, and ice, and icicles, and the children went wild. Strangely enough, the lights stayed on. Guess the icy pine branches didn’t hang low enough on our power lines to hurt anything.

We all pulled on our clothes and went to investigate. Snow up to the porch! Snow filling the front ditch! Snow everywhere! Pine branches cracking and snapping from the ice made a strange, exotic musical concert. We had a grand day, no work, not much inconvenience, just fun, fun, fun. Snowballs! Snow cream!

Until we began to hear grunt, snort, grunt, snort, coming from around the side of the house. Sooie’s pen had filled with snow, covering the electric wire completely up and shorting out the circuit. She just up and walked out, probably wondering where breakfast was.

Being quite weighty by now, she promptly sunk down in the fluffy white stuff, and began creating a tunnel-like path as she plowed forward.

You really can’t afford to lose 300 pounds of prime pork, so Paul headed out the back door to construct a make-shift pen out of rough boards, and the kids and I headed out the front door to head her off before she went exploring too far.

Me in my knee-high leather boots, all-weather coat and driving gloves, and my similarly-clad children offering moral support and high-pitched yells – Sooooie, pig, pig, pig! – we did our best to corral our adventuresome, freedom-loving hog.

The kids confronted her with wild calisthenics from up ahead, and me and my bulky winter garb tried to block her escape from the rear. All we needed was a few more minutes, and Paul would finish hammering nails and begin shoveling a path directly into the new accommodations.

But Sooie’d had a taste of liberty, even if coated in snow and ice, and she wanted no part of a pen. She spied those peculiar shenanigans in front of her, turned her body around somehow, and suddenly I was facing one determined sow, snout to snout.

Alas, I wasn’t much of a match. She stepped right on my leather-shod foot, flattened me right into the side of the snow bank, and waddled on by me at full speed ahead.

Watching her ears flapping in the breeze, I decided at that moment that maybe poultry was healthier than pork. The children decided it was even more fun watching mama hobble after the wayward porker than to help round her up. As they contributed their yells and antics from a safe distance, I limped my way to the back stoop and observed as Paul finally intersected her path with a new one of his own.

By the end of the day, Sooie was tired out, maybe a few pounds lighter from her unaccustomed exercise, and happily munching corn in a dry, sheltered corner of the storage shed. As I soaked my swollen, black and blue foot in a bucket of hot water and Epsom salts, I was thinking, how much is pork per pound these days?

Huckleberry hunting and the forty-acre rock

Mom, I’m bored! That used to be a common summertime complaint before the advent of video games. In the early 1970’s boredom was seldom a problem for my family. We lived thirteen miles from the city limits on a small mini-farm, and mowing grass, pulling weeds, shelling beans and shucking corn kept us pretty busy after normal work-day jobs.

Occasionally, however, adults and kids alike wanted to do something totally different, so one morning we went exploring our neighborhood “forest.” Instead of the usual shorts and sandals we donned jeans and sturdy shoes, then tromped across the paved road from our house into a long stretch of unoccupied woods. The undergrowth was manageable, the ground cover mostly pine straw.

Lifting our feet high we picked our way carefully through bramble bushes until reaching a little stream, a tributary of nearby Willow Creek. Turning south along the creek banks we spotted straggly bushes loaded down with ripe huckleberries. Ooooh! If we thought about germs they didn’t worry us, we just stuffed our mouths. Smaller than the commercial ones you can buy frozen at the grocery store, these wild blueberries were a tasty blend of tart and sweet.

Visions of blueberry cobbler and blueberry jam filled my mind. What to carry the berries home in? Our combined tee shirt-tails weren’t long enough to carry many berries home, and besides I wasn’t sure I could wash that indigo color out without a great deal of bleach.

We surveyed the creek bank to be sure we could find this spot again and trekked out of the woods, across the road to our house and collected an empty lard tin. Back in the woods we filled that tin half-full with huckleberries, scouring the bank north and south to be sure we didn’t miss a bush. Wild berry concoctions were a delicious staple of our diet for quite a while after that summer day.

By the fall of the year house-and-garden tending got entirely too tedious again. We needed another break, something away from even the hint of all those chores. What to do? Go see the forty-acre rock, of course.

Now, I didn’t know about the forty-acre rock, I’d never even heard of such a thing. But my husband knew somebody who knew somebody who swore it really existed, so early one Saturday morning into the car we piled for a day trip to Lancaster County.

Wow, that’s all I could say. Doesn’t anybody else know about this place, I wondered? There were no billboards, no touristy-type advertisements along the way, but when we arrived there was an official sign and a lot of rock. I mean, a lot of rock!

Today it is officially called the Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve and I guess the state doesn’t want a bunch of tourists trashing up the place. But it is open to the public, there are trails, and 1,567 acres in the preserve. The rock only takes up fourteen acres, not forty, but that’s still a lot of rock.

We parked the car and headed down a narrow trail. We soon came to the gigantic granite “forty-acre” rock, and with a sense of being on top of the world we stood there and gazed, slowly turning in a circle to take it all in. I had to admit, this is a very, very real place. After a few more minutes we continued down the trail, pausing beside a waterfall or stopping to look at the beaver ponds. Occasionally I kneeled down to examine unusual plants and pick a wildflower.

Not a single other person did we see. It was a little creepy to be the only humans within sight, but all I could think as we made our way was what a wonderful, awe-inspiring place. We saw pine trees, oak trees and cedar trees, all sizes and shapes, little pools with lizards sunning on the bank and swirls of fish in the water. We had to use caution not to lose our footing when we came to tree roots or loose gravel on the trail.

In some places water from the ground had seeped up into the path, trickling across to join a nearby stream. We stopped in the middle of a small bridge to listen to the water splishing as it crossed rocks just down the way. Except for our own “Did you see that?” and “Mama, mama, look over there!”, bird songs, water rippling and rustling of breezes in the trees were the only sounds we heard all morning.

By lunch time our muscles and stomachs were ready to call it a trip and we reluctantly made our way back to the car. Cellophane wrapped sandwiches and bottle Cokes from home made up our lunch; there were no handy McDonald’s or Burger Kings in those parts, in those days.

Now, I don’t know if huckleberries still grow down at Willow Creek or if that stretch of woods is even still there, uncleared and unoccupied. But if you ever get bored with house and garden chores, I can sure recommend a day trip to Lancaster County and the forty-acre rock at the Heritage Preserve.