Wednesday, July 11, 2007

My Garden Bolled Them Over ...

The other day, my memory was talking to me about “victory gardens.” Does your memory ever talk to you? Perhaps that should be a topic for another story on another day. But victory gardens came into my life in the early 1940s.
These gardens, also known as “war gardens,” were instituted by the Agricultural Department shortly after the U. S. was ushered into World War II in December 1941. A shortage of fresh vegetables had ensued. In fact, shortages had developed with food in general. The government rationed foods like butter, milk, cheese, eggs sugar, coffee, meat and canned goods. Also, gasoline was rationed. Citizens planting over 20 million gardens produced nearly 50% of all fresh vegetables consumed in the nation. It was a sudden change of lifestyle for our “land of plenty.” But my memory was talking to me about how all of this sudden change affected my family and me.
My family moved to Beaumont in October 1940. We lived on Pipkin Street in South Park. Our neighborhood was one result of the Federal Housing Administration’s effort to provide inexpensive new housing for young families who were trying to survive the aftermath of the Great Depression, and make the best of a wartime situation. Our two-bedroom house was situated on a small but adequate lot. The backyard was quite a bit larger than our front lawn.
When the call was made for families to plant victory gardens, my dad plowed up one-half of our backyard. He planted okra, tomatoes, potatoes and four rows of corn. Also, he put up a small fenced area and bought some chickens. The results of this were some fresh vegetables, corn and eggs.
Also, it caused this 7-year old boy (me) to want a victory garden. But there were some things I didn’t understand. For example I could see the okra and the tomatoes and the corn. But where were the potatoes? I thought potatoes should be on a vine or a bush or a stalk or something. I didn’t realize that they were roots and had to be dug up. I remember asking Dad how he knew where to dig to find the potatoes? He must have had a lot of patience to put up with my childlike curiosity.
Dad decided to give my sister and me a small section of our side yard so that we could plant our own victory gardens. I wanted to feel like I had a part in the war effort. My sister received the area of ground under her bedroom windows. I received a smaller area under our bathroom window. I planted tomatoes, cotton and one cornstalk. My sister planted Petunias. I chided my sister one afternoon about how in the world her Petunias were going to help the war effort. She retorted with something about how my one cornstalk and the cotton plant would help any cause.
When my cornstalk grew to about one foot in height, it died. My sister said in her southern drawl, “See there … what good will your cornstalk do now?” I let her know that my tomatoes and cotton would do more good than her Petunias. You know, big sisters can be difficult without even trying. Then when they try, they can be really difficult. But I digress …
Eventually, when the war ended in 1945, so did the government promotion of victory gardens. But many families including my family maintained their gardens for years. And you know what? We won the war. I was 10-years old by then. And I was too modest to tell anyone at the time, but I’ll share it with you now.
The cotton plant in my victory garden helped to win that war.

Winston Hamby


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