Monday, April 30, 2007

Helpful Neighbors

The neighbor is riding around on his tractor with an orange cone-shaped thing on the back of it. It looks like a big Dixie cup in orange. He has some stuff in there that he is spreading on his fields. The neighbors are worried about our fields. We haven’t done anything to them. We’ve done nothing. We’ve not put one seed down. The only thing that has happened is the horses have grazed it down to almost dirt and if I let them stay on it any longer, they will damage the roots and then the grass won’t come back unless we replant it. That much I know. And grass seed is expensive. What, it cost us thirty bucks to fill in all the holes just on the front lawn. Never mind a whole pasture. I told Kurt, we’ve got to get those horses out of there. And so we locked them in the back pasture, which is really a couple of acres of rocky clay since it was recently timbered. It looks like a hilly desert. It looks like the before-skin they show you on commercials for Jergen’s. The horses are not happy and they keep trying to break back into the front.

In the meantime, the neighbors have offered to put the stuff down for us if we get the bags. It won’t take but 7 bags they said. They don’t want my pasture to go to pot. There’s nothing worse than a wasted pasture full of weeds and brush due to a Yankee’s neglect and/or ignorance. And these people are nice around here. They look out for each other. Plus, maybe they can tell I am not one of them mean nasty Yankees who come down here because it’s so nice and then go and try to change everything—maybe they think I’m one of the good ones.

So we’re going to pick up 7 bags of the stuff at the Southern States. Kurt is scratching his head. It’s just grass isn’t it? Just keep the horses off it for a while and it’ll grow back nice and thick. There’s plenty of manure out there. Isn’t that fertilizer?

No one knows why the grass won’t grow right in the pasture without 7 bags of the stuff but it’ll grow in all the cracks and crevices in my driveway and along the walkway. It grows like wildfire in the garden. My fingers were hurting from pulling it out every waking minute, even though I bought gardening gloves for $7.95 a pair that have special grippers that’s supposed to help you. But I learned a few tricks. Number one, it comes out easier right after it rains. And number two, you can dig out a whole clump of it with a spade shovel. Comes right up. This works really well with the crabgrass that has roots to China. Then I just take the clump and shake off all the dirt.

These are the things your mother doesn’t tell you when you grow up in a city where the only earth is a small patch of concrete-colored dirt by the curb where all the dogs go to the bathroom. These are things you have to pick up by trial and error when you move to the country. Because your neighbors are too polite to tell you how to do things. They don’t want to stick their noses in where it doesn’t belong. People leave each other alone around here. There’s freedom in the country and I’m not just talking about all the open space. It wasn’t until I asked Pearl to please tell me if she sees I’m doing something wrong that she finally mentioned the 7 bags of the stuff I should get. She said it almost apologetically. I told her, “Don’t be shy, I don’t know what the heck I’m doing,” and assured her I was grateful for anything she wanted to set me straight on.

Yes, I started using words like “heck” since I moved to the country. And I say, “holy cow,” instead of “oh my God,” because I am learning to be more polite, just like my neighbors. At first “holy cow” sounded funny to me. It’s like “gosh.” I don’t say that one yet. But I say “holy cow” all the time. I hear it slip out of my mouth and wonder if my family up north thinks I became a dork down here, a real country bumpkin. Okay, they’d call me an asshole. I’ve changed since I became a country girl. I’ve lost interest in the latest styles. Heck, (there I go again) I don’t even know what the latest styles are. I’ve even gone to church. That threw them for a loop.

I say “holy cow” a lot because things amaze me. It amazed me when I saw the garden my neighbor was building next door. It’s about as big as my riding arena. My daughter is excited because they are going to plant pumpkins. She is not impressed with the squash, even though they are related. I’m counting on Pearl to give me some of her vegetables. The only thing I know how to grow is tomatoes. And grass in all the cracks and crevices of my driveway.

Kurt went over to Eldon and Pearl’s garden yesterday and leaned on his rake, pretending he knew what he was doing over here. Eldon told him the story of the beefsteak. It was a three-and-a-quarter pounder. People didn’t believe it. He got a whole loaf of bread to make tomato sandwiches. It was so big it was a three-and-a-half pounder. He told Kurt they also grow pear-shaped tomatoes, cherry, yellow and Roma. He asked what kind we planted.
“I don’t know,” Kurt said. “Red ones. The kind you get down at Wal-Mart.”

I swear I already told him what we planted but I had to tell him again. We planted Mountain Prides. I like to call them Mountain Mamas. I have no idea what Mountain Mamas look like. But I liked the name. I picked them up in the feed store with the gloves.

It amazes me when I hear of one of the women around here fixing fences or canning pickles. They are tough women, these farm ladies. I mean, you could just buy a jar of pickles in the Kroger’s for $2.29, but no, they spend months getting those cucumbers to grow in the garden. Then they can them. That means they boil them in big pots on the stove and seal them with rubber rings. When you open up the jar in the dead of winter, it will go “pop” and then you know it’s alright.

But I won’t be able to do any canning even if I knew how. I don’t have the right kind of stove. My neighbor warned me about that. She didn’t actually tell me not to do it because she didn’t want to butt in, being polite, but she relayed a story about it, about how Effie was canning and it broke the top of her new smooth-top stove, wink, wink. At first I thought she meant to be careful about cans of Campbell’s Soup falling out of the cabinet up top onto the stove below and breaking the glass because that’s what I had been worrying about and I was thinking about moving those cans to another closet. But that’s not what Pearl meant—cans falling down. She meant don’t do any canning on a smooth-top stove because it gets so hot it will break the glass. But since I had never tasted a fresh green bean until I was an adult, and the chances were more likely that I’d drop a can than be canning, I didn’t follow.

Like beans. It took me quite a while to figure out when people say “beans” around here, they don’t mean pork and beans you get in a can. They don’t mean kidney beans you get in your chili. They mean green beans they grew in their actual gardens. To me, that’s a vegetable, not a bean. That’s two different things. When I was growing up, we called them “string beans.” They came out of a can like the soup and the pork and beans and they were olive-colored and soft. No one liked them. There’s no vegetable that people like in a can except corn. But that’s what we got every night. A hamburger, mashed potatoes and green beans. Or a pork chop, mashed potatoes and peas, also olive-colored and soft. Sometimes we got what my mother called “minute steak” which was impossible to cut and mashed potatoes and carrots. But never a fresh green bean. Never even a leaf of lettuce. We had no salad dressing in the house. Because there were no salads. There was no orange juice and no bacon. We drank water or milk and had Cap’n Crunch for breakfast. Forget biscuits. The closest thing I ever got to a biscuit was when I grew up and got my first apartment and since I could now make my own decisions, I bought things I saw on TV, like Pillsbury biscuits you get out of the can by whapping it on the side of the counter. That was the extent of my biscuit experience until I moved down here and tasted a real one. Who knew? There was no garden when I was a kid unless you count the geraniums on the fire escape and no one really knew what flour was for. On Halloween we filled socks with the stuff and threw them up on the electric lines where they hung with the sneakers, but that was about it.

I get into the truck and go to the feed store where I ask for 7 bags of fertilizer, 10-10-10, acting like I know what I am talking about. Pearl and Eldon will be relieved. Then I throw in a couple of beefsteak tomato plants and another pair of gardening gloves. The men drop the bags of stuff into the bed of my truck where they land with a thump, thump, thump. The truck bounces seven times. They bags look small. They can’t be the fifty pound size I ordered. I ask them.

“Yes Ma’am, them there’s fifty pounds.”

“Holy cow,” I say.