I always think about Dan in the springtime. Dan was our neighbor down the road, a man who’d lived on Joe’s Run all his life, who had worked hard and farmed land that many might have thought too hard or too poor to be worth the trouble. He was a master gardener before that became a class you took with the extension agent, and a master at working with horses and cattle.
I know Dan, like many of the folks around here, thought we were a little strange when we moved to Joe’s Run in the 1970’s. We didn’t have family here, we didn’t know anybody on the holler, we paid cash for our land, we drove a van with pictures on the side, and my husband had long hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Our neighbors were courteous and helpful. They helped fix fence when we tried to use the 50-year-old wire around our place to hold horses and cattle. They looked surprised when we brought in milk goats but kept their thoughts to themselves. Dan helped us with our first butchering and we worked with his family in haying time.
Dan was special to me. His hearing was getting bad and he moved stiffly, as if so many years of work had worn away all his joints. But he could garden, and he loved to come up and look at what I was growing. I always tried different things, heady with having the space and the good soil needed to grow almost anything I wanted to grow. He looked in amazement at my snow peas that had purple blooms, the peppers that ripened to a beautiful gold, the lemon cucumbers that looked like round yellow balls, the purple-podded beans, red potatoes, pink radishes, broom corn and Indian corn and herbs of all kinds. He loved it all. To Dan, if you could grow a garden, you had to be all right.
I miss him these Spring days. I know he lived a good and long life, surrounded by family that loved him and the land he knew so well and farmed so lovingly. But I wish he could see my gardens these days, the flowers that finally took hold, the lettuce that was ready by Easter this year, the tomato plants from our greenhouse that had blooms on them when we planted them. I wish he could be here to see it. I know just how he’d do—he’d look around, not say much, his eyes shining, mouth curved in a little smile as if he’s just heard a good joke. He might reach down and pick a piece of lettuce to chew on, but I know he’d never taste a snow pea. Eat a pea pod? Whoever heard of such a thing!