Even in those early years when we had to watch every penny we spent somehow we had everything we needed. Even the year of our hail catastrophe we were determined to succeed. I set my mind to do my part in providing for our family. Larry bought me an inexpensive little Singer sewing machine and an instruction book. I taught myself how to sew by making a couple of really odd looking garments. Soon I got the hang of it and kept myself and Heidi, and later Robin, in some cute outfits.
Larry fenced off a small portion in our backyard for a garden. We bought tomato and strawberry plants. Every day while Heidi was playing in the yard I would weed and water my little garden. It was fun to watch the tiny plants begin to grow. Pretty soon our plants were loaded with blossoms and tiny fruit began to appear.
I was vigilant. My mom and grandmother had given me some empty jars and pectin. We bought the sugar and the lemon juice and waited for the strawberries to ripen.
I learned too much water makes the tomato plants grow too fast. I learned when it is too hot the tomatoes get sunburned. I learned if you irrigate and the water gets on the strawberries they rot. Larry had made mounds for the strawberries to keep the plants dry. I learned a lot about farming from my little garden.
I think we had about twelve tomato plants because we had the room and they kept growing and I wanted them all! I started taking tomatoes to mom and grandma every week. Everyone said how good they were. My Grandpa raved about them. One time when I was visiting he called me to the back porch where he was sitting. He had sliced three huge tomatoes each into about five slices putting each tomato on its own little plate. He then scooped out a huge pile of mayonnaise onto each sliced tomato and handed me a fork. Grandma joined us with some Iced Tea. I remember the juice running down our chins and the funny slurping noises we made trying to keep the juice in our mouths. I was happy to announce I would be having ripe strawberries in a day or two.
I don’t know if I’d never had cherry tomatoes before or not but we had a few plants of them. When they got ripe I would stand and eat them straight from the vines. I loved them. When grandpa saw them his eyes lit up. He called them, “Tommy toes.” I can’t eat cherry tomatoes without thinking about my grandpa.
I was so excited to make jam for my family. It was Saturday. Larry had figured Monday the berries would be perfect for picking. I had the jars and lids ready and waiting on the kitchen counter.
When evening came I put Heidi in her swing and went into give my berries one last irrigation before their harvest. I wanted them as plump and sweet as I could get them. I set the hose running in one of the furrows and began picking the ripest tomatoes for the day. I found my first tomato worm! Those are really ugly little creatures. I grabbed an old pickle jar and put the worm in it. I put the jar on the picnic table so Heidi could watch it. I had placed a couple tomato leaves in the jar and that worm just kept eating like he didn’t know he was even caught.
When Larry came out and saw the worm he got kind of a worried look and headed into the garden. I followed right behind and heard him say, “There is no such thing as a single worm.” He was right; he began looking under leaves and stems and started finding lots of worms. They were so well camouflaged I hadn’t noticed. It was like they appeared overnight. We found damage to a few tomatoes and we found several stems with no leaves left. We stayed in the garden picking worms for at least an hour. When we were finished Larry sprinkled the whole garden with Seven Dust.
I was double upset by the time we finished. Not only had my garden been invaded by worms, but I’d not paid attention to my irrigation and the water was touching my strawberries.
Monday morning I took three big bowls out to pick my strawberries. The very first strawberry I reached for was a huge red juicy one. As I lifted it from the ground it felt damp on the bottom. Sure enough, the bottom of that beautiful berry was rotten. To make matters worse I found when a berry rots like that it is a magnet for slugs. I picked four huge bowls of berries but about a third of them had to be thrown out or have a section cut and discarded.
Even so, I managed to have a successful first canning session. I remember what great pleasure I felt each time a jar seal would pop signifying it was successfully sealed. I remember lining up rows of jars according to their size. I had quart jars and pint jars. I even filled empty baby food jars with jelly and sealed those with paraffin wax. That summer I supplied my family, my grandparents, and my mom and dad with enough strawberry jelly to last us until the following year. What a great feeling!