Monday, July 12, 2010

Radish Sandwiches and Nature

I remember the summer trips, years ago, when I went with my parents to the family farm near Lamont, Oklahoma to spend the day working in the garden. My parents, Fred and Dora, usually planted a garden that included just about anything that would grow in Oklahoma. I don’t remember how they watered it during the driest and hottest summer days but I’m sure they pumped water from the well and had some kind of hose gizmo or some such thing. I vividly remember that each time I’d accompany them, whether just my father or both my parents, we always worked through the morning; pulling weeds and hoeing the rows of vegetables until it was time for lunch. Before walking over to sit in the shade near the well and the metal pump we would pull some green onions and plump radishes from the garden, sometimes we had leaf lettuce and we’d pick a little of that as well. In the shade of the elm trees we washed what we’d picked, my Dad working the pump handle while I washed away the dirt. When everything was clean we sat down and prepared our lunch—radish, onion, leaf lettuce and cheese sandwiches. We’d buttered the bread before we left home and the bread was thick slices of my mother’s homemade bread. To this day it is a sandwich that I make for myself whenever I have radishes in my fridge, today, however, was truly special because I had radishes fresh from my small garden. I pulled them from the ground and dropped them on a pile of greens that I’d just cut, then I carried everything into the house, washed the harvest and after putting most of the greens (I couldn’t help it, I had to much a few as fast as I washed them.) in the fridge, saving a crisp mustard green leaf for the first layer of my radish/onion and cheese sandwich, which I washed down with strong, black coffee.

Today I know that I enjoyed a small, but still significant harvest, and it is what kicked in the memories of “the farm” and living in north central Oklahoma in the 50s and 60s. The other thing I remember is that about the only wildlife we ever saw on the farm, other than birds feeding on mulberries, was cottontails, jackrabbits and an occasional coyote. I have absolutely no memory of ever seeing a deer, turkey or even a quail on the farm. My parents sold that farm in 1961 and I did not return for 35 years but when I did there was nothing left to mark the place that had been the farmstead, that alone my parent’s garden. Every nail from any out building, the farm house, or a splinter from any fence post, had all been taken away or returned to the earth. In town, however, I talked with a man who told me that in the creek bottom there were turkeys and deer and quail had returned to the area. That was 15 years ago. It’s getting close to time for me to take a trip back to Oklahoma and visit the site of the farm, place some flowers on the tombstones of my brothers buried in Oklahoma and Kansas soil; I'll see how the deer and turkeys are doing, and find out if the quail are holding their own against whatever is thinning their coveys around the country.

I wonder if that’s what we mean about some of us being “nature-based” people. We grew up with our fingers digging into the soil to both plant and harvest our crops, however small or large, and when we look out, at the places where we hunt and fish, we don’t see dividing lines between wilderness and non-wilderness, we just see nature and we know where we fit into it.

I remember that a worm was used for bait to catch a fish we would eat that night and a shotgun and shell we used to kill a rabbit or a duck that would be a meal. Life was all natural and ordered, just like those radish sandwiches. Thick slices of homemade bread with butter spread on them, first a leaf of lettuce then green onions, sliced thin and lengthwise and laid on the bread, then the radishes, cut into slices and spread over the onions and sometimes a sprinkle of salt for flavor and finally slices of cheese cut from a chunk of strong cheddar cheese bought that morning. When the layers were in place the bread was pressed down slightly, to hold everything together for each new bite—start to finish. Finally it was washed down with cold well water slurpped from hands cupped under the pump’s spout. Then it was time to go back to the garden and gather a small harvest before starting home.

Strange, the things we tend to think about, don’t you think? glg


Murphyfish said...

Hello Galen,
It is sometimes strange how memories long forgotten come rushing back when triggered by the simplest of things. Your post reminded me of a time past when living at home with my parents and siblings we didn’t understand the importance of family and just took it for granted. Now when I long around me I know that we all live within a few miles but the distance may as well be leagues for all the contact that we have. Your words have put my in a mind of doing something about that. So hopefully from trigger to memory to action and perhaps one family may draw a little closer before tis to late. Thank you for your words and being the unintentional trigger.

Phillip said...

Good stuff, Galen!

For me it was tomato sandwiches at my grandparents' place. The tomatoes were always fresh off the vine, and the flavor was heaven with red sauce. You won't find that on a grocer's shelf. Instead of gardening, we spent our days fishing and crabbing, learning the waterways and marshes intimately... but like you said, it wasn't academic learning. This was real and practical.

All these years later, I can bite into a homegrown tomato sandwich and flash back to those muggy, summer days.

Galen Geer said...

Don't waste time thinking about spending time with family! Have fun. glg

Galen Geer said...

Hey Phillip,
You ever eat fried green tomatoes? My mother used to fix them and when I twist Michelle's arms enough she'll fix them. My step-daughter loves them. One thing I still can't eat, however, is green tomatoe pie. Ever try that? glg

WildFisherWoman said...

I LOVE radish sandwiches!!!!!!!

Galen Geer said...

Wildfisherwoman--And I noticed that you are a farm girl. Does eating radish sandwiches have something to do with farm life? glg

Phillip said...


I have to say that, as far as I remember, I've never had fried, green tomatoes. In fact, until that damned movie came out, I don't think I'd ever even heard of them.