When I was a child, we had a garden. Always a good reason for a garden. A war was on (twice!). Saved money. Eliminated waste of the several fruit trees on various properties. A Queen Anne cherry tree in my grandmother’s back yard translated into cherry pies in the winter. In my grandma’s kitchen, I sat on the kitchen table and turned the handle that spit pits out one side and slid pulp down the chute, into a bowl.
I came home from school in the forties and fifties to canning every fall afternoon. I slid skins from tomatoes and peaches and packed them in quart jars. After supper we put on lids and rings, put the jars into the canners and settled down to the Lone Ranger while they processed. I graduated high school in 1961, and went off to college. I can’t say I never canned another tomato.
I fell off the turnip truck, very young.
When I was married, we lived in Willoughby, Ohio, in a house on Strawberry Lane. I wanted a garden, our landlord did not object, and we made a garden. It was loam to dream of. Twenty years of mowed grass mulch, miles of grass roots, millions of worm tunnels. Perfect, once in a life time soil under the sod.
I can’t remember what I planted in the garden, while we lived there. Tomatoes, for sure. Radishes and carrots to die for. They grow perfectly in perfect dirt. And, turnips. I love turnips. I’ve met one other turnip lover in my life, my husband’s Aunt Jean.
Aunt Jean and Uncle Leeds lived in California, with their son, Howard, in La Jolla. Aunt Jean was my father-in-law’s sister. I met her and her family once, when they came east to visit. My father-in-law was a reserved man. I never imagined him as anything but a civil engineer, even when he was a child. His mother and I were friends, and Grandma Thomas (she outlived two husbands) had a garden behind her house upstate, but I doubt my father-in-law did more than draw highways in the dirt.
My mother-in-law came from the same German green grocer stock background as my mother. Dottie Noragon never really approved of me and certainly shared no childhood memories with me. Her brothers and sisters did, though, and I know Mom Noragon knew turnips, too, even if she never admitted it.
So, Uncle Leeds, Aunt Jean and Howard came visiting from California, and stopped to see us. Uncle Leeds wore trousers, an open throat cotton shirt, a Panama hat. Aunt Jean wore a light cotton shirtwaist and sandals. Howard was a young teenager. I walked around the back yard with them, past laundry and a thousand diapers flapping on the line. I was slightly embarrassed; my mother-in-law had a dryer, and I was sure Aunt Jean must, too.
In the back corner Aunt Jean stopped short, then approached the garden. She dropped to her knees; her hands brushed over foliage. “Leeds, these are carrots. Leeds, these are radishes. Oh, my God, Leeds. Get Howard. These are turnips. He must know what a new turnip tastes like!”
And up from the soil one of my perfect turnips. Jean brushed it clean on the hem of her beautiful dress. “Quick, Leeds, your knife!” The turnip turned to slices in her hand and was shared with Howard and Leeds. She went back to my in-law’s home with a bag of turnips, “for Dottie to cook for supper.” No idea how that went over.
The picture that inspired the story. About 1966. Back row, left to right, my Grandma Rolf, my mother, Lenore Lytle. Grandma Thomas. Me. Front row, my mother-in-law, Dottie Noragon. I loved GrandmaThomas. You can tell by looking, she would have a daughter named Jean, who loved gardens, too.