Earl Gothard, 76, and Roland “Pee Wee” Cornett, 77, are effusive in their praise of the outcome of their hundreds of hours of planting, tending, and harvesting the largess of their gardens this year.
Cornett reports, “Absolutely great garden, best ever. The good rainfall in July, that was the key.” Gothard says, “Everything done real good.”
And then both men regale me with details: Gothard canned 97 quarts of beans, 47 quarts of tomatoes, froze four-dozen ears of corn, and cooked and froze six dozen ears of corn off the cob. But who’s counting?
That would be Cornett: canned three rows of Blue Lake green beans, put 16 bags in the freezer and “canned some of the half runners in corn ‘cause we had beans galore. We put up three kinds of pickles: bread and butter, dill and freezer, and I gave away a bushel of cucumbers. This year we didn’t have a lot of bugs. Bugs come when it’s real hot and I planted early. My potatoes were beautiful, not the first bug on my potatoes when usually I’ll have a bucket of bugs. These potatoes are big ole baking potatoes. They’re so big, my wife and I split ‘em at dinner, and we put the little ones in with green beans.”
Cornett continues, “We made tomato juice and canned tomatoes. I had thousands of grape tomatoes and gave ‘em away by the buckets, fabulous. My wife plans to get first place, again with her squash relish at the Swappin’ Meetin’. We made pepper jelly this year, both red and green. Why we could give the jellies as Christmas gifts, just beautiful.”
Florida and Texas are the destinations for the dried green beans that Gothard puts in his attic on two big screen doors where the exhaust fan dries them. Dick Gilliam and Patsy Duckworth are the lucky recipients of these beans each year, courtesy of Gothard and the U.S. Postal Service.
Among these success stories there has to be a downside, even though it’s a tiny one. Fifty crows (Did Cornett count them?) came to shuck his peaches-and-cream corn. “They love it and got half of it, leavin’ just enough for us.” And the bears got in Gothard’s corn.
They also tore into his bird feeders recently and they know when garbage pickup is on Parker Street in Cumberland because the bears appear each Monday on schedule. They might be appearing on the appointed day because, according to Gothard, “Bob Sturgill keeps feeding the bears ‘cause he likes ‘em.” Sturgill’s mother-in-law, Lizzie Galloway, has a “little poodle-type dark brown, blackish dog that tried to drive a bear off recently, but he wouldn’t leave ‘til he got done eatin.’”
Cornett planted rhubarb this year, forgot about it and plowed it up. He hankers to plant some blueberry bushes next year “‘cause it’s a pretty bush and you don’t have to do anything with it, and eating the fruit is healthy.”
And the bragging rights go on as Gothard says, “We got plenty of apples, Honey Crisp and Golden Delicious. I’ve got a six-quart crock pot and in one cooking I get eight pints of apple butter.”
Cornett mentions the country-wide interest in Gala apples and J.D. Creech’s apple orchard on the top of Black Mountain. My interest is piqued, but I’m preparing to teach my college class in American literature.
Cornett is immediately interested as we discuss American history for a few minutes, and he declares he’s going to search Sarah Kemble Knight on the Internet, a writer unfamiliar to him. I think, Good luck with that Pee Wee: My students usually take a pass on her work.
So as Gothard and Cornett detail their different ways of preparing for next year’s garden, I bring the interviews to a close.
Appropriately, Gothard says, “The Lord well blessed us. I thank Him for it.”
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