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Posted By Tony Melton Florence County Extension Agent

   When I was, as Daddy would say “knee high to a grasshopper,” I slept on a small cot jammed between my parent’s bed and a window because there were a total of ten of us and only three bedrooms in our home.   At the end of my bed was a small upright chiffonier which I thought contained all the secrets of the world. During Christmas break when there wasn’t much else to do, I would go foraging through all the treasures stored in that old chest.  I loved to reminisce over and guess who was in all those old black and white photographs.  One of my favorite pictures was of a young, strapping Army boy with his loaded pack standing on a pair of skis in deep snow.   Becoming a ski trooper deployed in Italy in WW II had to be tough for my dad, a flatland S.C. boy, where snow is rarer than a cold day in July.  Until he got mad, Daddy was a quiet man, he and seldom talked about his war times.  However, I would listen wide-eyed when my brothers and sisters expounded about all the war memorabilia stored in that chest. The string of machine gun rounds ignited my imagination of how Daddy fought hard against Hitler’s and Mussolini’s armies.  The Italian and other foreign coins took me around the world in my dreams. The pump-up flashlight ---oh, it must have been dark during those long nights.  The fold-out camera brought Daddy’s war to me.  But I puzzled over the pen wrapped in electrical tape in the special heavy-duty pen case. “Oh, that’s the pen that saved Christmas,” my siblings told me.  Just before Christmas, Daddy’s squad was in a real fight and the bullets were flying.  The bullet heading for my Dad’s heart hit and ricocheted off the pen in his shirt pocket.  This explained the other reinforced box in the chest which held my father’s Purple Heart.

   How ironic the pen being mightier than the bullet.  Daddy lived and therefore so did I.  In many ways Christmas means salvation to me.  Even though I joke a lot, and hopefully it makes these articles interesting, I seriously share with you my love for plants, people, and the Pee Dee of South Carolina (my home).  By the way we have a copy of the snapshot of that Army boy proudly mounted on Mom and Dad’s tombstone.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.  If you enjoy gardening and using flowers and plants in decorations, please watch Down Home with Tony and Amanda on Thursday nights at 8:00 pm on the SC Channel (ETV's digital station). If you don't get that channel, you can go to www.mig.org, select streaming video, and scroll down to where our shows are archived.

 
Posted By Tony Melton Florence County Extension Agent

   I will be home for Christmas.  However, it will only be a dream because both Mama and Daddy are gone now.  Also, the little white house with three bedrooms that served as close quarters for all nine of us kids has succumbed to termites and been torn down.  Even though we had no inside bathroom and kept warm around wood heaters, we were, oh, so rich.  I truly miss a lot of the things we had.
   Pecans, pecans, pecans.  I would sit around the wood heater, cracking pecans with a hammer, and filling my belly to overflowing. Like most old homes, ours was surrounded by pecan trees.  The trees were very fruitful and the nine of us kids would pick up bushels and bushels of pecans.  In those days, disease and insect pressure was limited on pecans.  Today scab disease has overcome the resistance of many older varieties, pecan weevils are everywhere, and the abundance of trees serves as a reservoir for all kinds of problems.
   Before the health benefits were even dreamt-of, we had pomegranates.  Daddy would threaten us kids that none should disappear off the bush before frost.  It was tough to wait, but Daddy knew that it took a long time for those fruit to mature and ripen for picking.  Daddy never did any maintenance to the bushes but we still had an abundance of those bright red fruit every year.
   I don’t know where the plants came from, but behind the barn we had our own little apple orchard.  They weren’t the nice looking, big fruits you see in the supermarkets today. These were little, knotty, sour, and green fruits that mellowed when ripe.  I cannot tell you how many times one of us kids got a belly-ache from eating green apples.
   I really miss the figs.  Even though eating fresh figs made my mouth sore, I couldn’t get enough.  My mouth still waters when I think of taking one of Mama’s home-made biscuits and filling it with butter and her fig preserves.  Today figs are still fairly easy to grow and every home orchard should have a least one.       
   Finally, I miss the big garden filled with collards, turnips, mustard, and sweet potatoes.   Today’s kids would think we were so deprived since on Christmas morning we woke to a shoebox full of fruit and non-fayed pair of jeans. But in my mind, we were rich with Nature’s bounty which we picked on our own McBee home place.
   Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.  If you enjoy gardening and using flowers and plants in decorations, please watch Down Home with Tony and Amanda on Thursday nights at 8:00 pm on the SC Channel (ETV's digital station). If you don't get that channel, you can go to www.mig.org, select streaming video, and scroll down to where our shows are archived.


 
Posted By Tony Melton Florence County Extension Agent

   The more historic I get the more I love history.  I love old houses, old gardens (what we call yards in McBee) and old plants. This is why I am tickled to death ( I may need some Depends) that Kalmia Gardens and the historic Hart House c.1820 located at 1624 W. Carolina Ave. in Hartsville are having a Christmas open house on December 7th from 2 pm – 5 pm.  The house will be decorated in period style, and there will be light snacks, carolers, mule drawn carriage rides, and a visit from Ole St. Nick.  Along with the Hart House Tour, the Jacob Kelly House, and the Hart Cottage will be open and it is all free of charge. 


     All of this takes me back to my youth, and since I am a plant person I get lost in the exterior rather than the interior of old homes. My grandmother had a wonderful swept garden.  In the way of her day, no grass would be allowed to grow in her yard.  She would take a broom sedge broom and sweep it weekly to make sure no grass grew. My mother had grass in the yard, but both had the same wonderful tried and true plants that are still the foundations of southern gardens today.  With all the new types of plants and varieties on the market today, we have a tendency to forget these trustworthy plants that will withstand our abusive summers.   I lose myself in the Abelias, the Flowering Almonds, the Crinium lilies, the Camelias, the Pearlbush, the Judas Trees, the Flowering Quince, the Thrift, and the Wisterias. And who could forget the Azaleas, the Cherry Laurels, the Weigelas, the Spireas, and the different Magnolias.

   However, I cannot forget our old simple wood-frame farm house.  Of course it had a screened-in porch where I shucked many an ear of sweetcorn, the old reel type washing machine was worn out, and I got scolded many times for running back and forth out the screened door letting hoards of flies into the house.  Next, came our kitchen with its red hot wood heater, single row of cabinets filled with all it takes to feed eight kids, and a small kitchen cabinet filled with leftover mama’s biscuits.  And mama with her sweet smile standing next to her stove where it seemed she always stood trying to feed all us kids.  Next, came our dining room with it small rectangular table not quite large enough for all us kids, maybe that is why my brother Wayne ate in the kitchen or was it to be closer to the food, with all eight of us competing for each morsel.  Here I learned that if you did not like something someone else did and you would be left out. 

   Next, came our den again with its red hot wood heater, couch, straight back wood chair stole from the dining room, and our greatest prize our  black and white TV tuned to wrestling, the Red Skelton Show, the Ed Sullivan Show, Mission Impossible, the Authur Smith Show, and any time possible the Billy Graham Crusade.  Finally, with no insulation our three cold bedroom where all attached to the den.  I remember the time when the Mason jar, my sister filled with hot water heated on the wood heaters to keep her feet warm at night, froze the next day while we were at school. 


Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.  If you enjoy gardening and using flowers and plants in decorations, please watch Down Home with Tony and Amanda on Thursday nights at 8:00 pm on the SC Channel (ETV's digital station). If you don't get that channel, you can go to www.mig.org, select streaming video, and scroll down to where our shows are archived.


 

 

 
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