Happy 94th birthday dad
My garden is primarily weed-free these days, and farmers markets do not officially begin until July 1. This leaves one week of "the calm before the storm." Summer gets busy with baking, canning, harvesting and spending one or two mornings a week at the market.
I am looking forward to seeing all my old friends and making a few new ones. So here I am, contemplating life in general.
As my years pile up beside the aches and pains in my joints, I think to myself, "Wow, life is so very different from when I was growing up," sometimes, I wish I could spend one day as a child. On that day, I would walk through the tall prairie grass inhaling the scent of wildflowers and enjoying the sun on my face. I would also ask my parents and grandparents some questions about their lives. They might not answer them, but I am hoping they would.
I ponder the change in our lives. We were free to roam the small towns of Fredonia and Gackle. Our parents wanted us out of their hair and only required our appearance at mealtime or for chores. We played with found objects and our imagination, climbed trees and inspected every living creature we encountered with curiosity and awe.
Life is so very different today. That got me thinking about whether my parents and grandparents found themselves thinking about that very same statement and frequently exclaiming how things were so different when they were growing up. As you know, if you are of my generation, we are starting to repeat ourselves in the course of a conversation.
My mom passed away five years ago in October, but my dad celebrated his 94th trip around the sun on June 23.
Being a journalist by trade, I decided to discover what transpired in his years on this planet. First off, he grew up on a farm around Wishek and never lived outside of North Dakota. He was born on Thursday, June 23, 1927. No doubt my grandmother did not take any maternity leave before attending to the daily chores of farm life. Probably that very same afternoon.
On June 13, 1927, Aviator Charles Lindbergh attended a ticker-tape parade down 5th Avenue in New York City after becoming the first person to fly solo and nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean in his monoplane, Spirit of St. Louis.
On June 26 of that year, the Cyclone roller coaster opens on Coney Island. And, on June 29, the '" Bird of Paradise" aircraft, a U.S. Army Air Corps Fokker tri-motor, completes the first transpacific flight from the mainland United States to Hawaii.
My dad was born one year before Dr. Alexander Fleming discovered mold on his bread and extracted penicillin to save the world from life-threatening infections.
Believe it or not, television was invented in 1927 by Philo Farnsworth. Before this time, the only modes of communication were letters or transistor radios. My dad regularly watches us on Facebook and carries a cell phone with text messaging. Can you imagine that? The change from party line telephones, or no telephone at all, to having one in a pocket?
I suppose that televisions were not very useful when he was a child because the farm had no electricity. In the 1930s, cooperatives applied for loans from the Rural Electronification Administration to bring electricity to rural areas. The cost to sign up was $5, and the monthly fee was $3.50. That must have been quite a decision to make following the Great Depression. It wasn't until sometime in the late 40s and 50s that many farm families in North Dakota were allowed to take advantage of this work-saving wonder.
These are only a few things that have changed the way we lived our lives since my father was born. When I marvel at how life has changed, I can only imagine how he feels living in a three-room apartment in an assisted living facility. And, being the second to the oldest sibling in his family, watching the others pass before him has got to be difficult. He lost a younger brother only about a week ago. If I counted correctly, the tables are tipping. If I counted correctly, I lost 15 aunts and uncles but have 16 remaining, plus my dad. Two in my favor the way I see it.
They all grew up on the farm and are all too aware of the cycle of life. Planting brings life; harvesting is the reward; seeds remain, and life goes on. You can't do anything about it except to choose to be happy.
LEt's end our contemplation on a positive note. You can reuse your 1927 calendar for the year 2022 as both calendars will be the same except the dates for Easter and other irregular holidays based on a lunisolar calendar.
Oh, wait, I forgot – one more important thing happened on the very day of my dad's birthday. My best friend from college, and to this day, thanks to technological advances, Karen Benson McMahon shares that very same birthday. That way, it's easy to remember to send her a card.
Yeah, you can wish Happy Birthday on Facebook, but there's no replacing that archaic method of communication, a card in the mail. Here's to another birthday for all of us.
Profiling a 'Gardener'
More common than Big Foot sightings in North Dakota are Gardener sightings. Not gardeners, but Gardeners, with a capital G. There's a difference.
It's not that people are deliberately hunting for Gardeners with binoculars or digital cameras for scrapbooking. Still, you might just run across one in a crowd, and you need to be able to identify a true "Gardener." Here's how.
There are many ways to identify Gardeners versus gardeners. It's like observing the male species of songbirds, colorful and noticeable, instead of the more subdued color of females. Just saying that gardeners blend in a wee bit more with the landscape than Gardeners do.
If someone says, "I planted tomatoes, but my chickens scratched them out of the ground." Pass them by. If you hear someone say, "I can't grow radishes." Turn around and look elsewhere. Besides comments like these, if a gardener plants in the spring and harvests nothing in the fall because they were too busy boating or something, yeah – sorry.
Here's how to tell a Gardener, remembering you can't tell them much.
Real Gardeners do not have green thumbs. Most of us do have cracks in our hands that fill with soil. Over time those cracks deepen, and who knows what insects or nematodes live in there. On a side note, there are many beneficial minerals in the soil absorbed through our hardworking hands. Forget about manicures; Gardeners' nails are clipped short and unpolished not to attract too much attention.
Gardeners can often be seen at the crack of dawn in PJ's or robes with a hose in our hand watering flower beds or small gardens. If you notice a robe hanging on a hook with a visible watermark around the hem, you have found a Gardener.
Another sign are jeans with slightly darkened knees. That’s because we can’t wash all that soil out of those pants which are commonly worn when down on our hands and knees pulling weeds from rows of tiny plants. Far be it for us to hold off weeding cause we got our dress jeans on.
And speaking of dress clothes, have you ever observed someone in dress clothes weeding the flowerpots in front of a hotel? Your first thought might be the hotel hires the best-dressed groundskeeper in the whole country. NOPE, that's a Gardener. Somehow weeds, even those that do not belong to them, compels a Gardener to assist in pulling them out so the flowers can live.
Instead of sporting a sleeve tattoo, Gardener's arms are a lovely tan color. Well, tan until your reach the middle of the bicep – aka farmer tan. As we age, blemishes and scratches create the unusual roadmap of years pruning gooseberries or repair irrigation lines.
Only a true Gardener will pay $4 for a package of 25 tomato seed, start them indoors in March, plant outside in May, water, weed and fertilize for two months to taste that first red fruit; but won't pay a penny for a grocery store tomato in winter.
Gardeners have sheds of tools, an abundance of zombie-killing tools such as pitchforks, rakes, serrated trowels, hoes, etc.
Most of us make no plans for Memorial Day weekend because
a. either you didn't put your whole garden in yet and the danger of frost in North Dakota has finally passed (we hope) or,
b. you lost some stuff to that last sneaky May Freeze, and you happen to have some extra tomato plants and cucumber seeds and need to get them in the ground.
Gardeners are a competitive bunch. If you overhear someone talking about a better method to mulch at church on a Sunday morning or bragging about the size of their radishes harvested before Memorial Day weekend, that's a Gardener talking. Always looking for a better method of growing the largest first crops of the seasons, a Gardener is always happy to share their latest "discovery."
Finally, Gardeners are daredevils when it comes to selecting seeds. They will go to great lengths to find vintage seed packets, heirloom varieties and seeds from other continents to try. Then they plant in good faith and hope for the coming harvest. In the end, all Gardeners realize there will come a time in their life when they too will be scoured by winter's wind and buried in the soil with the hope their life-long work will sprout some new variety of "Gardener."
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.