The summer day I saw Granny walking down her Appalachian alley, swinging a hen by its feet, the head dangling back and forth, I knew we’d find fried chicken on her supper table.
Discreet in her butchering and processing, my sisters and I never discovered where she kept her birds–never heard a squawk, or saw a chicken running around without its head, or feathers stuck to Granny’s dress.
As a child, the platter of crispy fried chicken legs, thighs, and breasts appeared on the table without any drama on Granny’s part. And beside the meat sat a bowl of mashed potatoes with a pool of butter, green beans seasoned with pork fat, and hot pone of cornbread.
Oh, and her homegrown slaw.
Summer-by-summer, my grandmother embedded in my soul her subtle lessons how to grow and serve food. Ninety-eight percent utilitarian, she grew one pink rose bush and a pot of red geraniums for beauty and fragrance.
In her mid-eighties, upon our last visit to her home when she still stood on her feet, Granny said, “Sorry y’all, but I can’t cook today.”
I felt the hurt of her disappointment. The letting go began.
Gradually, from that moment forward, whenever I’ve gardened, cooked, and preserved, I’ve come to realize the breadth and depth of my agricultural and botanic inheritance.
The root of Granny’s gardening grew from her Scottish mother and German father whose ancestors immigrated to America. They settled in Chapman Hollow, Kentucky. There they raised dairy cattle and produced milk and butter for sale.
As many Americans, my agricultural taproot reaches the Revolutionary generation.
I didn’t know this when my husband and I visited Jefferson’s Monticello with our three young girls in tow. Yet, when we returned decades later, a spark of recognition identified paw-paw, tulip tree, and the magnolia unknown to me forty years prior.
And the gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Jefferson’s terraced vegetable garden related much more to my affection as a gardener.
And while I sat on the porch of Washington’s house on Mount Vernon’s hilltop overlooking the Potomac, I pondered in awe our first President’s role in leading the colonies to liberty from Britain.
However, until I read Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf, I didn’t know Washington’s vision of Mount Vernon and an agrarian Union sustained him throughout eight years of battle.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison held this ideology in common. Planters and botanists, they believed to sever all dependency upon Britain, the colonies must grow their own food and clothing.
And this bond amongst other Constitutional Convention delegates dissolved the gridlock within the stifling room where Congress voted for the Constitution of the United States.
Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison each served two terms as President of the new Union. Correspondingly, each farmer returned home to Mount Vernon, Monticello, Quincy and Montpelier.
Dear Reader, in their retirement, our Founding Gardeners grew their own food. They fed family without any political drama on their part.
Contact Iris at firstname.lastname@example.org.