Friday, January 25, 2008

A tough broad and tough gardener

Before my uncle died last year, he let me rifle through a trunk of old photos that belonged to my grandmother. I found this one of her sister, my great aunt "Dodo" (her real name was Dora), who lived in Greensboro, N.C. I adore this photo of her, standing like a hardy plainswoman with a cigarette, daring the dirt to defy her. She lived into her 90s, but unfortunately her gardening career ended well before that.

A pin in her hip kept her confined to a wheelchair in latter years. But at one time, you could always find her toiling in her garden that in autumn was a jungle of dahlias. I don’t recall seeing them except in photographs—the blooms were head-high. Dad tells me that Aunt Dodo could coax anything to grow in "pure mud." She transformed the landscape with mulch, kitchen scraps and anything else she could turn into compost. Dad says she would order all manner of "oddball" stuff from catalogs and that she made the most of her space, training cucumbers, squash and any plants she could talk into growing vertically.

Aunt Dodo filled the table with vegetables from the garden to feed the family while her sister spent several years in a tuberculosis sanatorium. In the trunk, I found this letter she wrote to my grandmother Sept. 9, 1949:

".....I cut the last cabbage today. We have had plenty all summer. The 175 I put out are living all but few the pidgeons snipped off. We had our first tender greens yesterday with corn bread. The two new patches I planted few days ago are coming up —purple top and tendergreens. The new tomatoes are coming along and have plenty for the table. The last 12 plants are just ready to bloom. New snap beans almost ready to bloom. We get plenty okra - egg plant - lima beans - snap beans - hot & sweet peppers. So far very few things bought outside of staples. The figs are ripening fast. I preserve them for you. Lots of love, Sis Dora"

Aunt Dodo was a tough old broad, widowed young. She was a subsistence gardener and flower grower, a hard-working private duty nurse, devoted smoker and a faithful one-Budweiser-a-day drinker. Dad recalls visiting her in an apartment littered with dog-eared copies of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazines and ashtrays with butts piled to the ceiling.

Aunt Dodo was one of my dearest relatives. When I was young, she clipped articles about Elton John and other rock stars I liked and tucked them into her shakily hand-scrawled letters to me. After both she and my grandmother were dead, my dad and uncle found her wedding ring among the possessions. It fit me perfectly, and they gave it to me as a gift, which I put on immediately and never took off. When I got married, I chose to wear it as my own.


Carol said...

Hi Carla, I got your email and came right over to see this Aunt Dodo of yours, since I do enjoy both gardening (to the extreme) and family history. She sounds like a great person and quite the gardener. 175 cabbage plants! Wow, that is a lot of sauer kraut.

I'm adding your lovely blog to my feed reader, so I'll be watching for more fun posts.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

David in Greensboro, NC said...

I love that photo, Carla--you don't happen to know where in Greensboro she lived, do you? By the way, I'm glad to see Carol is here, because when I saw your post, I thought she would enjoy it, being a family historian!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

This is great reading Carla. Glad to meet you and some of your family.

Carla said...

Thanks Carol! I enjoy your blog so much. Yes, I wonder what they did with all the cabbage.

Carla said...

David, My dad and his family lived all over Greensboro. I know at one time they were on Asheboro Ave. And when my great aunt was very old they lived on Rainbow Drive, a little dead end street. That's where I knew her. When we were in Greensboro for my uncle's funeral, Dad drove us around and pointed out several houses that his father built.

Dad says he doesn't know where this photo was taken. He was just a wee lad then. At one time, he and the family lived in an old gas station with their antique shop on one part and the living quarters in the other. Their house burned down at another location, so there probably would have been more family photos had that not happened. These were only discovered last year, so it was a real gift.

Carla said...

Thank you Lisa. It's fun to share!