A Gardening Family's Loss - Update

Update on my gardening friend, Ester. She's holding up pretty well, missing lots of things from the house, of course. She lost all her houseplants including a very elegant aloe plant she'd had for 20 years. A few fans of this blog have sent contributions to the account (listed below). Any help, especially contributions of checks, going for building materials, are all greatly appreciated by the family. Thank you for thinking of them during this cold winter season. Jim

Ester Shouse is a lifelong friend and an avid gardener. Her late husband, Roy, took me fishing, taught me how to hunt for ducks, and many other outdoor things, when my father didn't have the time when I was a kid. I grew up with Ester and Roy's 9 children, we swam together, fished and hunted together. The kids, 7 of them still living, are all grown, some with children of their own. But Ester's house has remained the central part of this large family's world. Three of the boys, Richard, the oldest, Roy Jr. and Fred, the youngest, all lived at home and drove back and forth to Lees Summit, MO to work.

Ester, now 80, told me last year she had to slow down somewhat with her gardening. She had planted 500 cabbage plants and 200 tomato plants each spring for the past 50 years but this past year she had cut back to only 200 cabbages and 100 tomato plants. "I just can't do that much any more," she said. And nearly all of the produce, plus corn, beans, peas and other things, was all canned, or frozen for their 5 large deep freezes. That, plus the several deer, fish, squirrels and ducks the boys got, was a major part of their food.

I spent a great deal of time in my growing up years at the Shouse's house. When I turned 16 and bought my first 1950 Chevy car (bought with the $75 I'd made raising pigs when I was 13), I would often stop by Ester's house late at night before heading home from a date. There was always something cooking in a pot on the stove and I knew I was welcome to have some. It was Ester who taught me to eat hot peppers and it is to her I give credit to my love for those. My own mother made great chili, but it was Ester's chili that brought tears to my eyes and sweat to my brow. Whatever their household had, it was happily shared and I was always treated like one of the family.

A few days before Thanksgiving in the middle of the night, Ester's house burned. She was upstairs in her bedroom. A grandson, Byron (just back from Iraq) and his wife, Vickie were in another bedroom and Ester's sons, Richard, and Fred were sleeping in their bedroom. Roy Jr. was downstairs sleeping on the couch and it was he who yelled out the alarm that the house was burning.

All got out alive, thankfully. Roy escaped with his billfold and jeans, but suffered serious smoke inhalation and he was airlifted to a hospital in Kansas City. Byron and Vickie didn't even have time to get their clothes, nor did Fred or Richard. Car keys, false teeth, glasses, clothes, all were left behind because the house went up in just mere seconds. Ester's hair was singed, but suffered no physical injuries.

I'm posting some photos here, of Ester and son, Richard, in front of what was left of their old and very modest house. There's a photo of some of the boys sifting through the debris to find anything like car keys or coins. I took a photo of the canning - Ester had canned 157 quarts of tomatoes during the summer and I have no idea how much sauerkraut. The canning sets eerily on some newly built metal shelves that Fred had installed last year in the basement.

If anyone reading this post feels moved to help, the address follows at the bottom of this posting. They don't need clothes or household items, neighbors have been bringing those. Co-w0rkers where Richard, Roy and Fred work took up a collection and bought boots, jeans, etc. What they will need most is cash, to try and rebuild a house for Ester. It won't be the old two story place where everyone congregated, but it also won't have stairs where Ester might fall (she's fallen twice in the past year and broken the same arm, falling down some rickety old stairs from the kitchen). A new house will be built. Pete is a carpenter and cabinet maker; Roy and Fred are welders; all of the boys are hard working and so labor will not be a problem. But buying the materials will be a challenge. There was no insurance on the house.

Somehow out of the ashes another house will arise. This is an amazing family, a family I have been a part of for my lifetime. Not just connected by gardening, but in so many other ways, too. If you want to help, there's an account set up in Ester Shouse's name at the Security Bank of Rich Hill, at Rockville (MO), 320 West Osage Ave., Rockville, MO 64780. (You can barely find Rockville on a map of Missouri; it's in West Central Missouri, near Nevada, Appleton City and Clinton, Missouri. It's a tiny village of about 200 people, a very poor area. Once a thriving town with a railroad and a farming economy, there's not much left any more).

Thank you for any help you can give. Know that your gift is a welcome and badly needed to a family who have lost everything and have to start over.


Applesauce Making from Neil's Garden

A group of us friends got together at Sarah & Neil's house. Sarah, the acting director of our annual "Friday Night Applefest" provided pans, stove, and Neil's excellent help in harvesting and washing the apples in advance. They have several well-cared for apple trees and share their bounty each season. We, Josh and I, provided the applesauce squashing mill, brought along Lauren, our last WWOOFer of the season who had never seen applesauce made before. She gladly cut up apples and assisted everywhere.

Roxanna brought Tom, who watched (as he says, someone has to), and also brought recycled jars to fill when the sauce was done. Mardi & Lynn came, we all cooked, stirred, chatted and had a potluck dinner while the applesauce cooked.

Scattered around the living room were the watchers, who got accused of doing noting but sit. Of course, once the apples are cut up and cooked, there's actually not much to do but stir, put in some cinnamon and then run everything through the mill to get the peelings and seed out.

Once the apples were cooked, and run through the applesauce-squashing mill, it was time to put the sauce in to jars, bottles, freezer boxes and plastic bags. Roxanna helped with the filling and lidding of everything.

And once all that was done, Roxanna proclaimed it DONE!

We had a great evening of visiting, discussing, saucing and mashing apples and everyone took home a bunch of applesauce from Neil & Sarah's excellent apples.


Visiting Other People's Gardens

After all my hair pulling and whining about the garden being dead from the first frost, I went to Florida. There is life after all, and gardens, too. The occasion was to speak at the Boca Grande Garden Club. The Sara Blakely-Jesse Itzler wedding had just happened a couple of weeks back, I was told, which included a street fair and lots of celebrities including Ophra, which introduced Sara Blakley's Spanx line of panty hose to the world. Boca Grande Island's a great place, about 5 miles long, probably 1/4 mile wide, populated by people who live "up north" in summer and enjoy the sunshine of the Gulf Coast in winter. We had a wonderful host, Sharon Rankin, who made our stay a great treat and who showed us the light houses and other highlights of the island.

The Garden Club hosted a reception for us on Election night at the home of Ed and Nora Lea Reefe, where we met the officers and board of the Garden Club and had a tour of the Reefe's fabulous home (Ed's an architect and collector of antique nautical paraphernalia, fitting for beach living).

There were about 200 members of the Garden Club and my program was on the Ten Most Popular Herbs, based on my last year's survey of wholesale and retail nurseries and seed companies across the U.S. (which resulted in my little book by that title). The program was well received and book sales were brisk, with food furnished by the group. I made a bowl of my banana salsa for everyone to taste.

We flew in to Tampa a few days before the Garden Club event, specifically to go to the Sunday morning Mustang Flea Market. And what a market it was. Half the vendors don't speak much English. We found Thai, Lao, Cambodian, Hispanic and others, selling produce and plants. I bought longons, rambutan, dragon fruit, passionfruit, passing up starfruit, oranges, pomelos, and a few others. I bought a pandanas plant, which I'd been looking for ever since I was in Thailand for cooking classes a few years back. The leaves are an ingredient in Thai pudding, which I like.

We stayed in Bradenton for a couple of days, in the apartment of Tom and Roxanna Collins, friends from our Friday Night Dinner Group here at home. We explored the area around Bradenton, including St. Almons, De Soto National Landmark (where Hernando de Soto landed and enslaved the Indians, or at least the ones his soldiers didn't kill). We found the Anne Marie Oyster Bar on Anne Marie Island, and Kay's Kitchen near Sarasota. Some trips are "bad food" trips, which means no matter where you stop, the food leaves much to be desired. Then there are "good food" trips, in which every place you stop, the food's great. This was definitely a good food trip, every day and was topped off by festive food at the Garden Club and a very pleasant dinner at the Boca Country Club the night before we left for home.

We visited the Florida Native Plant Nursery outside Sarasota, and they suggested we stop at 4 Bees Herb Farm. We did, and had the pleasure of meeting Deborah Blount, the owner. We talked herbs and plants and had a great visit. While there, a huge turtle came walking through the yard, evidently a daily occurrence. On down the road at Crowley Nursery & Gardens I found the cinnamon tree I've been yearning for these past several years. By the third day of travel, I had to ship several of my plants home, the rest, including the tropical fruit, I carried home on the plane.

We made several new friends who we hope to visit again, and warmed our bones for the coming winter ahead. I think I could like Florida a lot, considering you can walk out the door and pick oranges, plant tomatoes NOW instead of next May, and even garden a little all winter long. Now, if I could just find a little cabin somewhere in that nice, warm state, I'd probably go there for the winter!