"Radish" by Samantha Rospo

"I am reminded of radishes this morning by my friend Justin, who covered this very subject in his Your Wholesome Heritage Garden radio show on NPR Corpus Christi. Justin's angle was a bit more informative and educational than my own, as you will soon see.

When I was little, my mother let me gather the mail from the silver mailbox mounted on a steel post at the end of our front walk along the curb. We painted the box and post every May before Memorial Day because it was the first thing a visitor or passerby would see when nearing our house.

My mother insisting that the grounds and structure of our 750 square foot estate (as I saw it then) be meticulously maintained motivated my father to sometimes participate in the springtime renovation. But as often not. So mother and I took up the hoe, the brush, the rake, the rag and bucket, and the shovel more than less.

That mailbox was the most magical place in my little world. A long walk (four easy adult strides) from the front door, across the wooden porch, and along the pavers of the front walk delivered me to a step. My grandfather had made that step out of an old railroad tie. There were a number of things made out of old railroad ties around our house. Retaining walls, steps, and even the posts where mother strung her clothes lines in the summer to dry our clothes. It was a high step and I always had to make sure to pause and consider before making my way over it. (Later, a mad dash would remove the thing from mind entirely.) Then arriving under the box itself, and working my way round to the front on tip toes, careful not to fall off the curb into the street, and just reaching the very top of the box to release the catch that let the door down. Magic was almost always inside.

There were colored stamps from Publishers Clearing house! Life magazine and Look! In season there were cards in bright red envelopes or pastels. But especially there were catalogues. The stuff of dreams! Sears and Roebuck catalogues, J. C. Penny, Montgomery Wards. And my favorite, the Burpee Seed catalogue! It always came in February, the cruelest month, when it looked as if all hope of summer and green and growing things was lost. It was the promise of spring and I watched and waited with every bit of anxiousness and excitement for the postman as I ever did for the arrival of Santa at Christmas. Santa brought toys. The postman in February delivered hope.

Mother was very careful to go through the Burpee catalogue one page at a time from front to back, making sure I understood the names of every plant and seed, having me recount the purpose of the plant and the nature of the food it provided. There were carrots the size of icicles in bright orange with green tops that could be eaten raw or cooked without tops, or fed to my pet bunny George, tops and all. Beans were very important as I remember and also cucumbers which, could be problematic and tricky because of the vines and the little spines that grew along the ridges of the cue. My very most favorite was the radish.

There are white radishes, greyish purple radishes, pink to perfectly white on the inside radishes, long and skinny radishes, and best of all round radishes. Some resemble carrots, some beets, some onions and some even look like radishes! Those were the ones we always ordered, the ones that were really radishes, I mean really. Red, and round with pink to white centers and green leafy tops. Real, honest to goodness, spring is coming, we are gonna plant em just as soon as the ground unfreezes, radishes!

Ah now, that ground. Mother kept our garden in the back yard just down the hill and next to the long barberry hedge on the east side of the lot. Barberry makes a wonderful hedge because it grows thick and has very nasty sharp barbs that deter most critters and especially adults. We kids seemed to manage them with some effectiveness since we could leap them (or more importantly land) successfully without a scratch or broken bone. They guarded the East flank of the garden. On the West flank was the septic tank, a thing to be avoided and significant in more ways than the obvious.

The ground my Grandfather built our house on was mostly marshland. It was boggy and full of peat. Eastern Europeans had settled there, poor immigrants, farmers and laborers, because no-one else wanted to live near the marsh and the mosquitos, and because of that wonderful rich soil. It was the soil of truck gardens in my grandfathers day, full of watermelons and celery. I know because my father told me of when he was a boy, the kids would race behind the farmers wagon and nick a watermelon, escaping in gleeful laughter into the safety of cattails, beyond the curses and shouts from the cart.

That septic tank was our bane. The yellow backhoe that labored so mightily to bury the thing brought out buckets and buckets of light golden brown clay. Clay that when wet could be easily shaped and molded by hand. But when dry, formed a brick. And not a brittle brick, a hard pan, pick axe surface, a shovel can't touch me brick! My father, having very little financial means at the time was forced to allow that clay not to be trucked out, but to be spread across our modest lot. And that is what Mother and I were left with. Golden brown clay. Whereas the neighbors afforded that lovely black peaty loam. Oh the injustice!

Now as you probably know already from previous posts, my mother was raised on a small family farm. She had paid attention to seeds and plants and soil and all manner of growing things (her roses were the best but that is another story). She knew how to amend the soil of our garden plot and just when to do it. It had to be in the spring just after the ground had thawed. Still wet enough to turn the heavy clay over and mix in the coarse sand, composted leaves and peat. It was always hard, but in the end we made up a reasonable bed to plant in, at least for the present year. The process always had to be repeated. That clay worked its way back winter after winter, like a bad stain. We could never make it go away completely.

Radishes were sown in rows back then about 8 inches apart. After working the soil Mother would give me the yardstick that had the name of the hardware store printed on it. The one that hung on a nail on the back porch next to the garden tools. I would lay out the spacing of the rows (we always did it on paper first) leaving the widest for the tomato plants which would come later. There was a bag of wooden clothespins with one side of the pin broken off for marking the row ends. These I pushed into the soil, tying twine to the knob around the top of the pin and stretching it taught to the pin at the other end. Keeping a good straight line was always important to Mother. The furrow was directly under the line. There was the first furrow of the growing year, the one that promised warm weather, picnics, baseball games, fireworks, swimming. The shallow furrow for the radish seeds.

Just a light stroke of the point of the trowel carefully down the length of the twine and the soil was ready to accept the seeds. One per inch down the long row (to a kid). Not too close and no doubles or triples! Watch, they are hard to pick back out if you do. Admire them for a minute before carefully closing the furrow over them. Just enough soil to keep them covered when they get their first watering and not enough to deter the growth and expansion of the tender radish root. Now just enough water from the green watering can and wait for the magic.

There was no sense in checking for the first sprouts every day, but I always did. Radishes grow fast, maybe faster than any other vegetable, so it paid to be vigilant. Depending on the sun to warm the earth, the wind shifting from the south, the way I tipped my chin on my palms as I gazed out my bedroom window at the garden below. Depending on how hard I wished, sometimes five days, sometimes six, (once three!) days would pass before the miracle of summer would begin again. There are many stories that I can tell of Mother and our garden, but the one that contains the greatest hope is this one wrapped around the simple radish. Hope comes from the smallest seeds, in the hardest times, in the harshest conditions. It comes when it is most needed and yields the finest harvest where care and love and patience are observed."

by Samantha Rospo

Thank you for viewing this page

WWN's Free Community Newsletter relies on the help of its readers and advertisers to cover overhead costs that enable the WWN to exist. We need your help to continue! Thank you!
You do NOT need a PayPal Account. Use Square

Currently Trending in the Network

Copyright © 2011-2019. All Rights Reserved. Wonderful Women's Network, LLC. Your Community Newsletter Magazine. Committed to news, events, businesses and stories of Rockport-Fulton and Texas Coastal Bend Region. Duplication of content on this site without permission is prohibited by law. Information on this site is time sensitive and for general/entertainment purposes only. Opinion pieces/submitted articles and comments are the thoughts of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the WWN. Paid advertising through the WWN is not available to other general information publications. Always consult a licensed physician before taking medical or health advice. The WWN does not endorse any political party or candidate.