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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Milton, Myrthful, and Potager Cottage

My grandpa, Milton, was a watermelon farmer. 

He grew other melons too, but watermelons were his big crop.  I remember loading up his truck to drive the melons into town to sell, just like they're doing in the photo below.

Grandpa Milton, Grandma Myrthful, and helper.

 When we were young, my brother and I would spend summers with my grandparents on their Arizona farm, and later, on their Idaho farm (pictured to the left).  My grandparents (the Mundalls) were extremely conservative, hard-working folks. No TV; not a lot of toys; no shopping days or restaurants; no parties; no air conditioning; just farm.

On Saturdays they took us to a tiny church that smelled like old hymnals and dentures.  And, during the week, if we worked enough rows of melons, grandpa would take us into the Weiser town pool to go swimming.

I remember missing my mom immensely during these long summer visits.  But, I also remember all the smells sounds and feels of the farm.  It was always hot, even at night.  We left the windows open, turned on the loud square fans and stood in the cold shower with our pjs on just before bed in hopes that the wet clothes would keep us cool enough to fall asleep before they dried.  Mornings came early and were cool enough to be comfortable for a millisecond.

The house smelled like comfort, like fresh-baked wheat sticks.  I don't ever remember going to a grocery store.  Grandma, Myrthful, made everything we ate from scratch, mostly from ingredients grown in her gardens.  She had a large deep freezer in the garage, the kind you had to use an ice-pick to dig the food out of, where she froze fruits and veggies for the winter; and a large canning pantry filled with jars of peaches, applesauce, apricots, green beans, and any other garden treasure you might imagine.  She grew everything.  And I had the privilege (not that I appreciated it) of working right along side her from dawn to dusk.

Myrthful in her garden.  Notice the stick-made bean poles.

We took scraps to the hens and cleared the boxes of the fresh eggs. We milked the cows and carried the buckets to the mud room, where they sat to be skimmed (seems like there was always a bucket or two of milk in there).  We climbed the ladders to collect fruit from her many fruit trees.  She would send me into the towering tomato plants with a metal-handled bucket and a mission to pluck off every last pudgy green tomato worm.  We sat on the porch and snapped beans, shucked peas, and husked corn (which I liked to make dolls out of).  In the kitchen I had a stool in front of the sink where I would wash and halve apricots, carefully removing the worms form the center.  I set the table, cleared the table, washed the dishes, and collapsed into a cozy chair when the day came to a close.

I don't ever remember hearing a radio, just the crickets, toads, mosquitos, train whistles, chicken clucks, cow moans, tires rolling on rugged dirt paths, and the whispery whistles my grandma would compose while sewing or crocheting in the evening.

Grandpa was a smallish man, I think about 5 foot 7 inches tall, but he was huge in my eyes.  He always donned a woven cowboy hat the smelled of straw, sweat, and shampooed hair.  When he came in for the night he scrubbed his hands with irish spring (or a soap that smelt of that).  He laughed in bellows and told "true" stories of his many adventures with bears and lions and caves, that only seemed possible in the world of fiction.  He worked his fields with fierce determination.  If I was lucky, I got to ride in his tractor, or beside him in his farm trucks (known to be missing doors) over the dirt roads when he took his melons into town.  He called milk "cow juice" and soy sauce "bug juice".  And he was my favorite.  I would begrudge my brother who got to run off to do chores with grandpa while grandma made me stay in and learn to sew.

We got to play sometimes too.  My brother and I would sit at the irrigation ditch and use the mud to make bricks for houses.  We would spend hours there.  To this day I love the smell of the irrigation ditches when I drive on old farm roads.  I roll the windows down and inhale the cool air and childhood memories.  We would climb the hay bales in the barn and jump from great heights to piles of hay below.  We would put milk bowls out for the random farm kitties that were always skittering about.  We would catch grasshoppers and toads.  And, we always enjoyed spinning around in the tire swing hanging from the tree out front.

Those years were a gift.  They rooted a love within me for playing in the dirt and living a simple, organic, sustainable life.  I feel my heritage when I'm digging in our cottage garden now.  I sense their  love for the farm and nature, a love that they passed on to their five daughters and beyond.  This little corner house surrounded in untamed dirt and weeds feeds that love in me.

It has been 4 months since we moved into this cottage in Benicia.  These have not been easy months. Our home has demanded patience, creative organization, and hard labor from us, nearly breaking us.  I have always named my homes, a practice I picked up from a short time at school in England.  I love how English homes are named.  Home is so personal to me that a name seems more appropriate than a sterile number.  We have debated names for this home since before we moved in, but have struggled to settle on anything.  We decided to just sit with it.  Live in the house and wait for her name to present itself.  At last, it has!  As I was wandering through the land of Pinterest the other day I came across the name for a vegetable garden that sits just outside your door; it's called a potager.  Perfect!  We have vegetable gardens just outside our front and back doors.  So we have dubbed our sweet little home 'Potager Cottage'.  She's not a farm but she has revived my sweet memories from those summer days and the two beautiful souls who instilled this home-grown love in me.

Potager Cottage

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