Monday, June 26, 2006

Organic History [CCR]

This weekend I had to make a couple of trips over to the big box stores in the neighboring town to find some parts for my bathtub. In this store you find everything from lawn mowers to ice cream. Today it seems we try to stuff everything you can imagine into one colossal building. We did have stores with a variety of necessities in our rural Colbert County communities when I was growing up, but we just called them general stores. They may not have the super size and may not include the kitchen sink, but they had everything else and the other items were usually in a store on the same block. Harris’s General Store in Cherokee was a regular stop during my childhood when a general part was needed. Hoskins’ in Tuscumbia seemed to be the annual trip for getting the garden ready. Between Mr. Thompson and Mr. Malone you could get any groceries you needed in Cherokee. And the Davis family once ran the only stop in Mountain Springs but was later joined by the Andrews family.

My recent visit to the big box store found something that either we didn’t have or more likely didn’t label as such in the current fashion. They have an entire section purely devoted to organic foods. I reckon they tie that label to the idea of organic gardening. Have you looked at the premium you pay for those organic items? Back home I guess you might say we were organic when organic wasn’t cool to alter the phrase of a famous Barbra Mandrel song.

While my parents and a lot of people from earlier generations in Alabama can appreciate the work required just to get by, I grew up in a golden age. We probably had a lot less than my children, but we never knew what we were missing. And we had a lot more than earlier generations. I may not have had an electronic high definition video game with surround sound to play an automated football game, but I had a whole lot of the real thing. Unbeknownst to me the garden that consumed much of my time may have been necessary, but it did provide hours of entertainment that modern folks call organic gardening.

Dad usually used our pony to plow the garden after our old tiller chugged through a majority of the dirt chunks. Sometimes one of the local farmers helped out with their tractor since it only took one or two sweeps with one of their large machines. Most of the fertilizer came from the barn where our ponies and cows hung out. I suspect you don’t need further explanation, but you realize the fertilizer was only natural. I must admit we did cheat once in a while when one of the trucks passing slung out fertilizer into the ditch on the curve near the house. Dad would take the wheelbarrow up to the spill and pick up a little fertilizer to help the garden, but that wasn’t very often.

Bug spray wasn’t necessary. Yes, we had the bugs visit the garden. But Mom had the solution. She gave my sister and me an old can and a stick. Our job was to wander along the various rows of potatoes and other plants raking the potato bugs and other critters we found into the can. At the end of the row Mom would put a little fuel in the can and we burned the bugs. I bet those organic food companies don’t have a more natural method for bug removal.

After working in the garden Mom might fix a delicious dinner that included fresh garden vegetables, whole cake cornbread, and Southern sweet tea. Granddaddy may have picked up the corn meal fresh from the mill. We might top off the summer meal with homemade ice cream using milk fresh from the cow. Some meals might even include honey that either come straight from Daddy’s hives or even a bee tree we robbed. If that meal isn’t organic then I’m not sure what organic really can be.

I pass along the organic aisle in the big box store carrying various treasures found around the store including new school clothes and garden tools. I pause a moment and look at the organic fruits and vegetables. I can’t help but think trading all the wonderful times we had in that garden for hours sitting in front of a 60 inch high definition 5,000 channel flat screen mindless entertainment box. What have we done?

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Summer Breeze of Wisdom [CCR]

If you happen to travel down towards Cherokee, take the short trip out North Pike and just before you reach the Natchez Trace Parkway you will see a sign directing you towards Mhoontown Methodist Church. I’m not sure how many people know about this small but vibrant church located just a short drive into the shaded trees down Mhoontown Road. For me it is a beautiful drive I make on my July 4th pilgrimages home.

The area, the old church, and the cemetery adjacent to the church were named after the Mhoon family. Now I am quite sure my mother, our resident historian, could tell you far more details about the Mhoon family and their influence on the area. Looking around the cemetery you can see the foundations of the Mhoon family that includes burials prior to 1850 and memorials to family members laid to rest elsewhere many years earlier. The earliest memorial on record was for Moses Mhoon who died 1771, long before the Mhoon family settled there.

I highly suspect the Mhoon family was attracted to the area because of the spring located a short distance down the hill from the church. I haven’t been to the spring in years and couldn’t testify to its current condition, but a drive to the church and a walk through the cemetery will prove relaxing. Your tour through the cemetery will depict a panorama of the family names throughout the history of the area.

While the church has taken a somewhat modern look, it still has that feel of holding a history deep within its walls. Some of that history and the family names you will review include my own ancestry. Among the tombstones you will find Rev. William Jefferson Smith, born 1849 and buried in 1950, not long after celebrating his 101st birthday.

Rev. Smith was a circuit riding Methodist preacher who had become well known in our parts. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a circuit consisted of two or more churches in a geographical area and the circuit rider rotated among those churches serving as the pastor. Today a circuit is known as a charge. But the fame of the Methodist circuit riders lives on in the South and Rev. Smith carried the reputation well. I must admit I am a little prejudiced to the fact since he was my great-great grandfather and the reason my older son carries the middle name of Jefferson.

Rev. Smith departed twelve years before my birth, but left a strong impression among his family. A family that is wide spread among the population of western Colbert County. So in my walk I pause momentarily at the foot of his resting place hoping he might find a way to divulge the recipe to his longevity. If my guess is correct his secret may include his own joyful conviction to his vocation, but it may also be found in a simpler form of life. Life where worries stand aside for the moment so we enjoy the cool breeze blowing through the green trees of summer. Maybe that is why he chose Mhoontown as the place where people can drop by to pay homage. In doing so they gain a small portion of that secret and hopefully leave with contentment.

The next time you have had a long day at work, miss an important deadline, or come across someone who delights in your dismay think about that little church in the woods. If it is a bright summer day, pack a picnic and take that trip down to Cherokee. You can stop off at Colbert Park on the Natchez Trace to enjoy a meal by the river and then head south for the first exit. Take a right towards Cherokee and you’ll see the turn about a quarter mile down the road on your left. After parking by the church step out into the cool shade of the trees, breath in the fresh air, and listen. You too may discover a vital secret. And if you happen to bring any of those troubles with you, drop them off. A lot of wisdom is there to help you rediscover the true substance of your life.