On this Fourth of July weekend just past I decided to go back and dig up a few memories (no pun intended). Let me begin with digging potatoes.
When I was a boy it was a July 4 tradition to dig potatoes on the morning of the holiday. I say dig — actually, we used a plow to bring the potatoes out of the ground.
I recall three different horse-drawn plows used by my father in the early days. He used a three-point plow to plow tobacco. For many years that plow was drawn by a big, black horse we called “Ole Charlie.” Another plow he utilized was a two-point plow called a “double shovel.” My father used it to “bust the middle” of the rows of corn and tobacco. The third plow I recall was a single-point plow called a “bull tongue.” It was used primarily for “laying off” rows in the garden at planting time. A skilled plowman could create furrows, deep and wide, or, shallow and narrow, depending on the kind of seed to be planted.
The bull tongue was perfectly suited for digging potatoes. My brothers, my sister and I picked up many a potato as we followed Ole Charlie and a bull tongue plow. In later years, my father pulled the same plow with a Super “A” tractor. Eventually, he fashioned a single-point plow from an old turning plow shaft and fitted it for the one-point hitch on the tractor.
Regardless of how the potato rows were plowed, the results were always the same.
It was a beautiful sight to see golden spuds rolling up out of the ground as the plow cut through the earth. It was something you had to experience to fully appreciate.
To say there was an “earthiness” about it would be an understatement. The smell of the soil and the feel of the cool dirt under your bare feet made for the unforgettable.
My father insisted of plowing each row three times to ensure not a potato was left behind. Like I say, we picked up a lot of potatoes.
One year, four rows of potatoes yielded what we estimated to be 21 bushels. We filled bushel baskets, five-gallon buckets, cardboard boxes and burlap sacks with potatoes. We had potatoes “coming out of our ears.” It was a potato bonanza!
I have promised myself to plant four rows of potatoes somewhere next spring so our grandchildren can experience digging potatoes, if only once in their lifetime.
Another tradition for the Frank McCall family on the Fourth of July was “topping” tobacco. After the potatoes were dug, and dinner was over (we called the noon meal “dinner” in those days) we headed to the tobacco patch.
When tobacco plants begin to bloom it gives a tobacco patch a ragged appearance. Blooms are up and down, some plants irregular in height. My father preferred to top tobacco “down” to good-sized leaf. When we finished topping a patch of tobacco, the patch took on an entirely different appearance — “as level as table top.”
It makes for a satisfying feeling when you can look back and see what has been accomplished. Sometimes, looking back is a good thing.
I have always tried to stay in touch with my past. It has grounded me through the years. I believe if you don’t forget who you are, and from where you came, you can find the courage to face the uncertainties of the future.
Each Fourth of July, I celebrate America’s rich past. It is not a perfect past. But it is a past filled with heroism, hard work, sacrifice, accomplished dreams and freedoms unknown to billions who have walked this earth.
I saw one particularly large flag (Stars and Stripes) flying on July 4. My heart swelled with pride.
It was a sight for sore eyes.