By Tim Phillips
Oxford Eagle Publisher
As the days get longer and the dogwoods begin to bloom, a certainty reappears in my life: garden time with my dad is just around the corner.
Growing up in Holcomb in Grenada County, my dad’s father was a sharecropper working the land to pay for his rent and to feed his family. For many years after the Depression, people learned to live off the land and appreciate everything that they grew to eat.
Dad always had an interest in gardening and farming. While I enjoy duck hunting and playing golf, (or at least used to), my dad’s only hobby was gardening. He would always tell me that he couldn’t wait to smell the dirt for the first time after it was turned over by the tractor pulling the disk.
When my parents moved to Oxford, they purchased some land on Highway 6 East, about 2 miles outside of town. It would eventually be where we would grow up after living on Johnson Avenue Extended during our early years.
On a flat piece of this land, located on Campground Road, was where my dad decided his permanent garden spot would be. There used to be an old barn on this spot and the manure made the soil fertile and well suited for gardening.
Even before we moved to the country, as I like to call it, Dad would always have a small garden on that spot. When we moved permanently, he decided to turn our small garden into a large garden. I joked with him that we were turning into truck farmers.
While I say truck farmer, we never sold any of our produce. We just fed many of our friends and family. I remember one year Dad kept an actual count of how many different families received produce out of our garden. Thirty different families enjoyed everything from fresh tomatoes to gorgeous zinnias.
Unfortunately, my older brother Dan and younger brother Andy never seemed to be able to locate the garden. Neither of them had a passion for working the soil. I wouldn’t say that I did either, but I enjoyed the time outdoors with my dad. Working with him for so many years at The EAGLE taught me so much about life, but all of our garden memories hold a special place in my heart.
Lots of valuable help
My dad was always working, and it was difficult to find the time to get the ground disked, harrowed, and then rowed. The weather in the spring always played a part in when we could actually start planting. Roy Norphlet, Willie Morris, T.J. Holmes, Wade Smith, Wanda Phillips, Cynthia Ferguson Parkin and the late Charles Herod, all played a role in making the garden happen every year.
Even during my early days, I remember getting up at daylight and picking peas and butterbeans. The dew was still fresh and we tried to get as much done before the sweltering sun came beaming down. I remember one day the sweet corn came in and my mom got home from work late. She realized that we had over 150 ears of corn to put up. Needless to say, she wasn’t very happy.
The garden was also a way that we would get punished if we didn’t make curfew or had too much fun the night before. Nothing clears your head quicker than bending over to pick butterbeans at 6 in the morning.
As Dad’s health began to fail, the garden was something I tried to make happen just to lift his spirits. As work demands increased, it was harder to find the time to get all the work that needed to be done accomplished.
At 83 years of age, my dad’s health has declined to the point that he is mostly confined to the limitations of the house. I remember checking the mail a couple of weeks ago and there was the Burpee seed catalog. I knew how excited he would be when he saw what new seeds were offered.
Without my knowledge, Dad already had the garden mapped out that day with each row marked on a legal sheet. When I say mapped out, my dad knew exactly how many rows there were, and their exact width, and what was to be planted on each row.
As the dirt is turned over for yet another year for our garden on Campground Road, it is time to get the seeds in the ground. Thanks, Dad, for letting us share that special time together, when work and life problems seem to fade away as we worked the soil together.
Tim Phillips (’83) graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in journalism.
Published April 12, 2015, by The Oxford Eagle. Posted with permission.