Picked-up Potatoes

Living in Castlewood was a little like returning to our roots. It was as near to being back on the farm as you could get without actually moving to the country. The nearby spring gushed continuously into the creek that ran through the community. We were within a stone's throw of Castlewood State Park through which the creek wound its way to the Meramec River. Early morning hours found me walking through the park prior to its 7:00 A. M. opening. My work day didn't begin until I had logged the three miles to the river and back.

Woodlands surrounded our house and many of the homes along the banks of the creek were hidden among the trees. Only ten minutes away were shopping, churches, theatres, gas stations and restaurants. We felt as though we had the best of both worlds, as they say. Except for one little problem.

The steep grade on which our house was built made gardening difficult if not impossible. Many years we toiled to create a yard on a hillside that offered nothing but red clay and rock. We lugged large rocks scattered throughout the woods to use in landscaping and building retaining walls. Planting a tree was a major project and digging weeds out of the clay soil was difficult. There was virtually no back yard. Twenty feet from the back door, the ground rose sharply upward and was impossible to till, plant or mow.

But the beauty of our surroundings made up for the difficulty. Wild dogwood and redbud trees sprang up in abundance. Colorful wildflowers covered the hill behind our house. The proximity of the woods meant frequent sighting of wildlife such as hawks, owls, deer and other wild creatures. We could hear the coyotes yipping in the distance. A groundhog made his home under our back deck. Chipmunks skittered continually along the rock walls. We enjoyed both beauty and privacy in this peaceful setting.

James Bresnahan, our neighbor, had built his house on the banks of the creek. There was a small plot of flat ground resting between the creek and the road. There must have been something besides clay dirt there because every year he planted potatoes. I never drove by his place without visually checking the potato patch. I rejoiced when the planting was done and waited to see green sprouts rising above the ground. All summer we watched them grow and mature. I could imagine Mr. Bresnahan watching his crop of potatoes just as we did. At harvest time, he dug the produce mechanically, which left a lot of potatoes lying in the field. He let everyone know they were there for neighbors who wanted to come in and pick up potatoes for their own use.

Marceline lived further up on the bluffs above the river. One fall day she came down to ask if I wanted to go with her to pick up potatoes. We had picked blackberries together earlier in the summer and I didn't hesitate. As she had promised, no digging was required. The potatoes were lying on top of the ground. Stooping for hours, we gathered potatoes into bags and buckets that we lifted into the bed of her pickup truck. At my house we divided them evenly before Marceline drove on to her place. I peeled, cut, blanched and bagged my share of picked-up potatoes for the freezer.

Having grown up on a farm and spent my adolescent years helping Mother gather and can vegetables from her garden, I felt right at home in what I was doing. When the job was done I had the freezer stocked with my own pre-packaged food. It gave me such a feeling of accomplishment.

We were able to enjoy those potatoes all winter, with very little time spent in meal preparation. That experience was a true revisit to the past, allowing me a taste of the satisfaction farmers must feel every time crops are gathered and stored.

A few years later, we moved farther South to a wonderful place with flat ground and rich soil. We do a lot of gardening in our new location. Every time we drive by a farm with large barns and silos, I remember those picked-up potatoes and say a small prayer of thanks for the good things farmers bring to our lives.

© Faye Adams

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