Thinking Out Loud

Thinking Out Loud

Garden Time

Bruce H. Heberle

April 5, 2022

I like the heat and I like to watch things grow. This summer I  put in a garden, for the second year in a row. The plants are in, watered, pruned and ready to produce the bounty they will provide. There is nothing better than a red ripe Missouri tomato and we can’t wait for the bounty to begin!

Gardening is nothing new for me, like many families growing up on a farm, we had a garden. What made our garden different was that Dad was a master gardener and our family plot covered several acres! Gardening was dad’s favorite hobby. Our garden had 3000 tomato plants; 14 quarter mile long rows of super sweet corn maturing every two weeks; two quarter mile long rows of green peppers; a patch of onions; some radishes; a few rows of green beans; cabbage; lettuce; pickles; beets; carrots and a field of pumpkins. We sold the best at a road-site stand dad had built along Highway 100 West. When overrun with produce, we sold to grocery stores in Fulton and Mexico, or Mom canned it. To this day THAT ground can grow anything!

Dad’s real job was being Gasconade County Sheriff. He served from 1956 thru 1972. Mom was the county two-way radio operator in addition to being a farm wife and mother to 5 children. For some reason, she was required to feed all the prisoners incarcerated in the Gasconade county jail.

We needed the garden to live and support all the mouths dad was responsible for.

Mom cooked 3 meals a day.  Breakfast was at 8, dinner at noon and supper at 6. You were the table, in your spot or you did not eat. I can remember the prisoners were fed twice a day, breakfast and supper. They received the same food we did served in tin plates with tin lids on top of them to keep the food warm for the five-minute trip to the county courthouse. To supplement the $300 a month he received as Sheriff we had the truck garden, raised chickens for eggs; pigs to eat the garbage and a cow we milked for butter.

Summer Missouri weather is hot! It can be 100 degrees with 100% humidity and not be raining! The men in the family were required to do all the outside work. This included feeding the livestock, bailing the hay, fixing fence and doing most of the gardening. We diligently followed the Farmers’ Almanac per dads’ instructions for the best time to plant and worked the soil with our two tractors, a Ford Ferguson and an International Cub. While it was hard work, you had some down time and, in the afternoons, you could find us under the walnut tree wiping and sorting the 60 bushel of tomatoes we picked every other day during harvest season. If we were lucky you could listen to a Cardinal baseball game on KMOX, most of the time though, it was good old country music from KWRE.

As any successful farm would, periodically we needed extra labor to get the harvest in on time. This was a dilemma for a man who had a large family to feed, meal responsibility for all prisoners and only earned a $300.00 a month salary.

The Gasconade County jail was not air conditioned. The interior of the jail, inside the county courthouse, was surrounded by steel plates welded to each other making it very secure but feeling like an oven in the summer. While it did have a couple of box fans to move the air around, it could never be described as comfortable. The prisoners wanted to serve their time and get the heck out as soon as they could.

Many of the prisoners begged for relief. Dad made them a deal, sweat it out in the cell during the heat of the day or sweat it out at the farm. All chose to work on the farm. With my teenage brother and me working alongside the prisoners, our work assignments were quickly completed.

Mine was a unique childhood and during this time I’m sure mom prayed extra hard for our souls. Jesus must have answered her prayers because we both turned out none the worse for the experience. You see, mom was not pleased with dads’ unique work program, nor was she happy that my brother and me were taking to it so willingly. Her concerns were justified because like any jail you have a variety of people involved as some of the prisoners were not blessed with the strongest work ethic or moral caliber. The heat was still intense and after a few hours of work many, including a cocky young guy named Billy, could be found sitting along the cool creek bank, under a tall oak tree, taking a break from the summer heat telling us his exploits on wine, women and song.

Along that creek bank is where I had my first cigarette, started to cuss, and learned other impressionable things my mother did not appreciate. David and I were more than happy to be talked into running across the highway to the welding shop and fetch Pepsi’s for 10 cents each while we listened excitedly to what they had to say. Ken, another of the prisoners working on the farm, talked dad into letting him work on his personal 1954 Mercury after the farm work was done so it would be ready to go when he was released. He was a sign painter by profession, and I remember he painted our 1951 Chevy Flatbed truck doors with a stencil sign he created. He did get his car fixed and ended up staying in the area for a while after he was released.

Its garden time in Missouri. My 6 tomato plants; 4 peppers; and patch of cucumbers are doing well. I am simply marking time until they produce. As I remember it, Dad always shot for the 4th of July for his first ripe tomato and I think that is a great goal to strive for. I hope your garden is doing well this year too! See you next month.