Monday, May 26, 2014

Always peonies on Memorial Day

Dad used to let me go with him in the 1940s when he made his annual trip on Decoration Day, as Memorial Day was called then, to the cemetery where his parents were buried, but when we got there, he always said, “Stay in the car.  I’ll be back in a minute.”

I’d watch him walk across the grass, stop in front of his parents’ gravestone, stand in silence as if thinking, and then stoop to leave a Mason jar filled with peonies.

I often wondered what my dad was thinking when he stood there—because I don’t think he could remember his parents, Warren and Angeline Nixon.  They died two days apart in October 1918, both age 29, of the “Spanish Flu,” leaving six children, the oldest nine, the youngest two months, who were divided between maternal and paternal relatives for safe keeping and raising.

What does a man who became an orphan when he had just turned three think about when he stands at his parents’ grave?

Answers to that question have crossed my mind through the years, but, really, I have no idea because I really believe Dad didn’t remember his parents.  He never told me anything about them other than a few facts that others had told him.  On our cemetery trips he never hinted about what the annual visit meant to him.  I’ve always thought that his wanting me to “wait in the car” meant his thoughts were deeply personal.

Maybe the peonies were a clue to his thoughts.  If our own peonies were dropping petals as Decoration Day approached, Dad would scour the county to find a fresh bunch.  Whatever sense he had of his parents must have been positive—or why would he go to all that effort?  Or perhaps he had some instinctive love for the man and woman who gave him life.

When I walked out to the Shop this morning to get my wheelbarrow and tools to do some landscaping work, I notice that the buds of our red peonies had broken open during the night.  Memories of ancient trips to a New Jersey cemetery—of my dad pausing in thought at his parents’ grave—and of peonies in a Mason jar—flooded my thoughts.

I have no doubt that Dad loved my brother, Jay, and me deeply, as only a parent can, and as Ellen and I love our children, Brian and Lynn. 

Peony blooms last just a few days and are gone.  Love and memories last forever. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Oh, hail!

"All hail broke loose!"

What a beautiful late-spring day—sunny, temperature reaching into the upper 80s by mid-afternoon, with a touch of humidity reminding us that summer will soon arrive at Meadow Glenn here in Central Maryland.

About 3 p.m., the sky clouded over.  By 3:30 hail—big pieces of hail—started dropping here and there as the temperature plummeted within minutes to 70.  Soon our gardens became a war zone—with pellets the size of dimes punching through rhubarb leaves, blenderizing young Red Sails lettuce plants, and ripping leaves off tomato plants. 
Blenderized Red Sails lettuce plants

One of our garage doors was open, and nickel-size hailstones bounced the full length of the garage and stopped at the kitchen door.  What if our cars had been outside?

By 4:20 the sun was shining brightly again.  The hail was rapidly melting as the thermometer crept into the high 70s and thunder faded as the storm clouds headed east.  I checked releases by the National Weather Service, and they reported hail the size of “quarters” and “gold balls.”  I’m glad the storm exited here before the hail became the size of “bricks.”

It’s time to wait and see what happens with our damaged garden plants.  I hope our tomato plants—and our lettuce too—will recover.  I think the tomatoes will recover nicely—but the lettuce plants are so damaged they may have to releaf from their roots.

Damaged Sungold tomato plant

In our gardens I could find only one survivor of the storm—a Garden Gnome riding a tortoise that some suspect is Testudo, the official mascot of the University of Maryland.   I posed a question to the unhappy Garden Gnome:  “What was it like out in the storm?”

The Gnome simply replied, “All hail broke loose!”

My old wheelbarrow: free flat or flat free?

Flat wheel off, no-flat wheel on

I never cease marveling at our unknown ancestor who invented wheels.  Without wheels civilization as we know it would grind to a halt—which is what happened when I grabbed the handles of my wheelbarrow recently and discovered its tire was flat—absolutely and irreparably flat.

I had put a small bale of straw into my barrow to move it to what would be Tomato Patch 2014.  What does a small bale of straw weigh—25 pounds or so?  Whatever it weighed, it was too much for the wheelbarrow tire, which in a few seconds went from apparently OK to absolutely flat under the weight of the bale.

I was surprised by the flat because a year ago I had gotten tired of pumping up the tubeless tire because it constantly leaked at a rate roughly equivalent with the load being carried.  So I invested in a tube and installed it myself—not an easy task because I had to remove the wheel assembly from the wheelbarrow, loosen the tire from the rim, insert the tube, position the stem through the rim, and pump up the repaired tire.

I learned from that experience why we don’t repair our own tubeless tires.  It’s tough work without the proper equipment and tools.  A mechanic or helper at a tire store or auto service shop can do the job in a few minutes.  It probably took me more than an hour, and the result wasn’t something to brag about because the new stem made a weird angle where it exited through the rim.

And that weird angle probably was what caused the flatter-than-a-pancake flat.  An extra heavy load of four bags of LeafGro probably made the tube and stem rub against the metal edge of the rim, slicing the stem as cleanly as if I had used a penknife or razor blade.

So after years of minor frustration over having to pump up the leaking tubeless tire and then finding the irreparable damage to the tube I had inserted to solve the problem, I surrendered—absolutely.   I got out my socket set and removed the four bolts holding the flat tire to the wheelbarrow handles and removed the complete tire/wheel assembly.  I wrote down tire size (4.00-6), diameter of the axle and of the assembled wheel and tire and went to our computer to do some window shopping.

I searched “4.00-6 solid wheelbarrow tires” or something like that and after a few false starts found that two nearby Home Depot stores stocked a “universal” solid tire for wheelbarrows.  Before I knew it I was checking out at one of the stores with a solid tire in my shopping cart.  At home, I put the wheelbarrow on the back of my Tacoma’s bed and in short order installed the new tire.

Time:  Oh, maybe 40 minutes—probably four times what it would have taken an expert to do the job—but the service charge was “right.”

And the cost: $34.98 for the new wheel and tire assembly, only about 70% of the cost of a new wheelbarrow.

Was that an outlandish price for this ole Frugal Gardener to pay?  I don’t think so.  A new wheelbarrow would have a tubeless tire that doubtless would have started leaking annoyingly at some point.  A new barrow would probably have a plastic tray or bin that probably would crack or otherwise fail long before the steel bin of my old barrow will.  I also like the dents and scrapes in my old wheelbarrow.  They’re sort of “garden tool art” that we created together, one ding at a time as we happily carted who-knows-what from here to there in our gardens or to the compost piles.   In the fall I get a small degree of satisfaction as I hose out the bin and wipe down my work buddy with a light spray of WD40.

Finally, I smile just a bit because, really, I’ve recycled my old wheelbarrow and hopefully we’ll work together hands-around-handles for many more years.

Junk crusher at the Alpha Ridge Landfill recycling center, I’ve cheated you again.