The Cool of The Day

Its early summer. The brink of June. The gnats are out here in South Georgia. The air is heavy and full of the aroma of growing vegetation. This is the time of year at which the day’s greatest pleasure for me is found piddling in the garden with the sun angling low on the horizon.

               One of the most beautiful songs I know of is a song written by folk musician Jean Ritchie, called “The Cool of the Day”. I think of it each evening as I fill a 5 gallon bucket with green beans, pick tomatoes from my vines, pull sweet corn ears from their stalks, cut okra, or pull weeds. When I have the sprinkler running to quench the plants’ thirst I often stand back and watch as the cardinals and brown thrashers come to enjoy a shower in the cool droplets following the day’s heat. They seem refreshed by it and seem to enjoy this time as much as I do.

               I come by this simple joy honestly. I am descended from two grandfathers who knew no greater joys in life than family, fishing, and growing things. My mother’s father was a man short of stature but great of heart. A remarkably quiet and outwardly simple man with an astonishingly sharp mind. A head for numbers and how things worked led him to earn a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech in 1949. He would spend time in the Army as an underwater salvage diver and go on to operate his own heating and air conditioning business.

               Pop worked long hours but my most lasting memories of the man involve the time we spent fishing and the times I accompanied him in his garden. This would often be late in the afternoon, in the cool of the day. He had the habit of poking his tongue out of the corner of his mouth when he was concentrating on a task. As we worked our way down the rows filling five gallon buckets with yellow crook-neck squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, okra, peas, green beans, and corn I would look over and there he would be, sweating and bent over, with his tongue in the corner of his mouth. As content and happy as could be working the hard, red earth of the Georgia Piedmont.

               When one of my mother’s sisters had her pinning ceremony for nursing school, there was a reception to honor the soon to be nurses. Their families were invited to celebrate the occasion. These ceremonies date back to Queen Victoria’s award of the Red Cross to Florence Nightingale for her service in the Crimean War and are very serious and sincere events. This pinning ceremony was held at a big mansion, right out of Gone With The Wind, with long white columns and huge trees lining the wide walkway. Professors, Deans, and the President of the College were in attendance. As Aunt Sally and my grandparents made their way through the line of people they came to the College President. Hands were shaken, congratulations were showered upon Sally for her accomplishment, and pleasantries were passed. Assuming every man had a garden, Pop reached out his hand to greet the President of the College and asked “So, how’s your garden doing this year?”

               Pop’s garden was below the house, to the East, behind a couple of old barns and the scattered parts of air conditioning units and ductwork from which he made his living. A couple of old crabapple trees and fig bushes lined the path to the garden. The cicadas would sing and the whippoorwills began to call as I trailed behind Pop, with the scent of his pipe tobacco lingering in the air as we made our way to the garden. It seemed like a huge planting to me then, with great, long rows whose end it seemed we’d never reach. But as I look at the area as an adult, it seems to have shrunk considerably from that of my memory. Still, that little patch of red earth produced a bounty year after year, fed generations of family, and lifted a man’s spirit as he toiled in its rows.

               Strange, what can happen in the garden late of an evening. It’s a good place to bury things. The things that weigh you down and keep you up at night. Heaven knows the world gives us a lot of them at times. Some people deal with their own weighty matters by keeping them inside. They live much of their lives in their own heads. I know because I’m that way and I believe, so was Pop. Some say its unhealthy to keep those things inside. That you need to talk them out. Maybe so.

               But, some of us are just quiet by nature. Some of us work these things out by digging in the dirt. Into red clay or sandy loam. We bury some of these things out there in the garden and by some miracle too great to be understood, they return to use cleansed in the form of a green sprout that emerges and later bears healing fruit like a big ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomato or an ear of ‘Silver Queen’ sweet corn.

               To some, it may seem that we’re out in the garden alone. That we’re avoiding dealing with the issues that plague us. But, we’re not just out here digging in the dirt. We’re digging into our souls. In response to those who can’t see this, I offer the following words from another old song, “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses; And He walks with me and he talks with me, And He tells me I am his own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known”.

©2020 Lenny Wells

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