by David Brooks
One thing we know for sure about Americans: we are a competitive bunch. The last big political race took aggressive competition to a new level. Anyone OU plays in any sport brings out the competitive juices of fans and non-fans alike. Banks are competing for big bailout money. Car manufacturers are doing the same. Advertisers are trying to win the title of Best Superbowl ad. All of this so people, or groups, can declare themselves “winner.” It is also clear that sometimes those in the competition may tell a little white lie, or possibly huge, over-the-top, outright lies. Democrats and AIG executives seem to be the worst. (Just kidding, put down the hothouse tomatoes.)
Thank goodness for gardening. Happy people enjoying the fruits of the ground would never see their work as a time for competition. How could a lie ever invade the solitude and beauty of a back yard garden? Tilling the earth is a way of showing peace and love to each other, the soil we work, and possibly the new administration. So, it is safe to say that gardeners rise above the cheap, tawdry competition the rest of the world is locked into. Gardeners show the world how honesty and compassion really works. Gardeners are truly the Salt of the Earth. Sure!
I was raised by a gardener. My dad actually bought a house because it had a 20’ X 40’ greenhouse behind it. The previous owner raised geraniums for a retail group called TG&Y. Some of you may actually remember their stores. My dad went through the OSU Master Gardener program and graduated summa cum laude and was valedictorian of his class. There were only five in the class, but we let him gloat.
I had an uncle in Houston named Murray who was going through the same type of training in a Texas program that was very similar to the one my Dad excelled in. Both set out the same summer to plant their first “Big” gardens. Daddy in the greenhouse, and Uncle Murray in the backyard. It did not take long for something to peek through the dirt of both gardens. Naturally my dad’s somethings were greener, stronger, taller and better in every conceivable way. That is until Uncle Murray called to let Dad know that his plants were the greener, stronger, taller and yes, better of the bunch. It was on! A fist fight held over the phone with Turnips and Tomatoes used for gloves. The first year was civil, but by year three it was all out war.
And then the lies started! Over the phone a description is as good as you can make it. However, one day Uncle Murray sent a picture. It was a Polaroid of a head of cabbage the size of a Basketball. This was easily proved because a basketball was in the picture. It took years for Uncle Murray to admit it was a youth basketball about 2/3 regulation size. The competition then moved to the height achieved by the okra plants. While I was doing homework one day, (maybe not) my dad came in and yelled, “Bring the Polaroid camera and follow me.” We went straight to the Okra rows planted outside the greenhouse. There at the end of the row was an impeccably dug one foot hole. My dad proudly stepped into the hole and faced the camera. His instructions were to take the picture from just under the knee so it would not look like he was kneeling. After 3 or 4 attempts we got the shot he wanted and shipped it off to Uncle Murray.
A few days later came a Polaroid of one of the biggest Tomatoes I had ever seen. Uncle Murray put a dollar bill in the photo to show the size. That tomato was a beauty. Daddy was fit to be tied. My aunt admitted years later that he was able to achieve such a huge tomato by buying it from a gardening pro at the farmers market outside Friendswood, Texas.
The competition between these two lasted more than a decade. Both men are gone now, but the legend of their lies lives on. Both men bought new houses late in life based solely on the size of the yard and the gardens they would hold. Daddy and Uncle Murray lived into their 70’s with gardening, competition, and a few good whoppers leading the way to happy retirements. Both had roadside stands where they sold the abundance of their gardens, and, of course, they lied about how much they made. One year daddy sold a bushel of Okra for $600.00. Naturally Uncle Murray beat it with a 3 foot ear of corn that brought over $1000.00 and is now in the Smithsonian. I fully intend to grow a garden this year that will beat them both. Since they are not here to defend their honor, I know my garden will beat them both.