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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hoe! Hoe! Hoe!…

Summer attire

When the old dairy farmer  Herman Zylstra, our very good neighbor for seven years--he of the“In spring you get new hope”--made the obituary columns and was laid to rest in the wooden casket he crafted himself, family members asked me: “Are there any of Dad’s tools you would like?” They had been cleaning out Herman’s shop, downsizing and apportioning out the effects of Herman’s life. I didn’t even hesitate. “If it’s ok,” I requested, “I’d like Herman’s hoe.”

Herman had a little garden in his backyard. Just a few vegetables, tomatoes, some corn, the ubiquitous zucchini …. He kept his little plot weed free, using a special hoe he made himself. Herman brought with him into retirement, skills he learned while running his own dairy; he was an accomplished metal and wood worker. 
The hoe head he made from a steel plow disc.With a cutting torch Herman fashioned the disc into a triangle: one angle a long point, the other two less severe. He welded the axle to a sleeve he riveted to a wooden handle. The curvature of the disc rendered the working surface concave. It was a clever design for the backyard gardener. The long, narrow point was perfect for deftly flicking weeds from beneath the rows of vegetables without disturbing their roots.Herman's hoeThe shallow “v” was perfect for furrowing trenches to plant corn and potatoes; the shorter blade surface was ideal for more serious hoeing. In that one tool there were so many practical applications for garden maintenance. Gardener's helpmateThere is a belief among some cultures that the spirit of the creator is forever present in his art. Don’t know about that, but when I grasp Herman’s hoe I feel the old man, his presence, his skills—and I’m grateful for the years he was our good neighbor.

Tony Broers the other day was brandishing a hoe in his front yard flower patch, making the nasturtiums more comfortable, giving them some elbow room. He looked like he could use a break, so I stopped to talk. Tony took a final swipe at an intruder, turned and flipped up the hoe head for my inspection. “This is a Mormon hoe,” Tony informed me. Tony's Mormon hoeI looked at the hoe with a new perspective now. The head was different from any other hoe I’d seen, unique like Herman’s disc hoe. But just what made this special tool a “Mormon” hoe I wasn’t sure. I know the word “Mormon” elicits a variety of images and impressions depending on whom you ask, but the very first thought that crossed my mind was not the well-scrubbed white shirt, tie and dark-suited pair of young men who show up on your doorstep periodically, but what the hoe represented. A tool, a tool for work. Mormon technologyNow I’m not going to do any Bible thumping here—or as per the topic at hand “Book of Mormon” thumping. Those who follow the Ripple know its mission is to report and share the Valley news: any topic that smacks of politics is beyond the jurisdiction of this blog. The same holds true for topics religious. But one can’t help be impressed by The Mormon Church; in the short 181 years of Mormon existence, their industry and spiritual sense of purpose have produced an impressive number of accomplishments in the United States and worldwide. (Visit Temple Square in Salt Lake City and you’ll see what I mean.) I’m not sure if The Shakers, a religious sect now defunct, influenced the founders of Mormonism but the Shaker creed “Hands to work; hearts to God,” seems to be the Mormons’ as well.

“So, why is this a Mormon hoe?” I asked, and Tony tells me this story. East of Monroe years ago there was a raspberry farm operated by the Mormons. The berry crop came to Broers Farms for processing. The hoes were specially crafted by the Mormons to weed the raspberry rows. The hoe Tony showed me was such a hoe. “Ed may have one or two left over at the barn,” he said. 

A few days later I discuss the Mormon hoe with my Mormon friend Jim Tunnell, proprietor of the Beez Neez Apiary Supply in Snohomish. (Mormon founder Joseph Smith chose the honeybee, mentioned as deseret in the Book of Mormon, as a Mormon symbol because of the social insect’s industry and efforts to gather and store its food —Utah, remember is the “Beehive State.” No wonder, then, Jim has an affinity for the “busy bee”) Jim tells me he knew a Mormon Welfare Farm used to exist east of Monroe and explained the concept of Welfare Farms. These farms and food production sites make up a food network for the Church. Food from these locations is shipped to Bishops’ Storehouses in various wards throughout the country. Mormonism encourages “Provident Living” among its followers. Be “ants” and not “grasshoppers,” the Church advises; prepare for adversity: build up and lay away at least a three month supply of food. If a ward member loses his job or suffers some financial crisis, he has his food reserves to turn to; next his family; and finally as a last resort should these resources be exhausted, the Bishop will write him a food ticket which he can use at the Storehouse to provide food for his family and himself. In this way the Mormons provide a safety net for their own, strengthening the bonds of family, community and faith, and what’s not to admire about that?

Jim tells me more about this efficient and self-sufficient food network. Most of the labor is volunteer.Once or twice a year Mormon Brothers and Sisters are asked to spend a day or two working in the production centers. Jim has worked in a peanut butter factory in Texas and candled eggs on an egg farm in California.Handy hoe The Mormon hoe was used to weed raspberry canes for a berry crop destined to be jammed and jellied for the Mormon food network. (P and J sandwiches?? Mormonism…all religion aside: who the world over doesn’t relish a good old peanut butter and jelly sandwich?)

There are other hoes, of course. The old standard garden hoe for one.Your standard hoe When I was a young working stiff in the apple orchard, I wielded a grub hoe, a heavy-bladed tool meant to chop and clear the choking vegetation away from newly planted apple saplings. Spend nine hours on the business end of this hoe and your back will tell you stories in the middle of the night. Grub hoeSomeone invented the stirrup hoe which is more a blade than anything else, meant to slice through the stems of weeds. Dispense with this contraption. A timely gardening tip, now, from Herman the old hoe maker himself: drag an ordinary garden rake, tines upward, down the edge of each vegetable row. The newly sprouted weeds, yanked from their moorings, will curl up and shrivel. Use this method early and often—regardless of your tool of choice—and you’ll have an easier row to hoe.Stirrup hoe

No post or discussion on the subject of hoes would be complete without some cautionary advice: never lean your hoe with the blade facing out lest it become a weapon and in a flash throw your entire weight back in your face if you accidentally step on it. That old New England farmer-poet Robert Frost relates just such an incident in his poem “The Objection to Being Stepped On.” I doubt there’s a serious gardener in the land who hasn’t been stunned at least once by a blow to the head from a hoe or garden rake turned weapon.

Last summer the handle of Herman’s hoe, duct taped against a split in the wood, finally gave way. After the advisement and skill of three separate craftsmen, the old hoe and sleeve were removed from the original handle (so well-crafted it was) and a new handle attached. I honed all three edges razor sharp, painted the old blade a bright forest green, and finished the project just in time for Christmas.

“Tony,” I joked. “What would your wife say if you gave her a reconditioned hoe for a Christmas present?” Tony pondered that one for a moment, smiled, that devilish twinkle in his eye, and launched into a story about his two shotguns and how well his wife knew how to use them…. I guess a man should know better than to give his wife a gift that had a handle on it, shouldn’t he? Just glad I’m the only one who knows where the shotgun shells are cached.Now that's a Hoe!

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  1. I have been reading your blog for some time and really enjoy it. Although I haven't lived in Tualco Valley for over 40 years and then only lived there for my high school years, many of the names are familiar. One correction I need to make is the spelling of Tony's last name. It is Broers with an "S". He was my first employer, when I was about 12!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Thelma. I guess because of my Irish heritage I have problems with some of the Valley names. Misspelled "Frohning" in one of my posts, too. Just the other day I introduced Ginnifer Broers to another Valley resident and pronounced it as "Browers"--and I knew better, too. I even have Broers' business card. I appreciate your calling attention to the misspelling, which I will correct promptly. Thanks for reading my blog. And just what sort of work did you do for Tony when you were twelve years old?

  3. Well, I had already proven myself to be a lousy berry picker, so mostly I babysat their kids and made dinner for them. I must have been older than 12, though. My parents moved there when I was 12 and it was most likely a year or two later that I started babysitting. I know that one year during berry season Ed was less than a year old and he was child #3. I think when I was 12 I picked for Bob Baylor (probably not spelled right). He had the place across the road from Andy.

  4. Thelma, I'm not much of a berry picker myself, but these days all I need to do is pick enough for shortcake, jam, and eating fresh--and I pay for it. I think Ed and Ginnifer BroerS do the community a great service by providing a crop city folk and others can harvest by themselves, see where farm food comes from and how it's grown. We have lived in the Valley long enough to know about the Baylors (spelled correctly as far as I know). Don't know what his first name was--I always called him "Baylor." I admired his well-painted house and asparagus patch. He used to drive a white Cadillac, and I used to see him around town. He sported a belt buckle that would do any rodeo entry proud. I'm sure you know the recent history of his house, owned by Kelly Bolles now, and its ongoing renovation. Kelly has assured me he will share his story of the remodel/house "raising" with the Ripple. Stay tuned for that. Thanks so much for sharing; the BroerS are great folks.

  5. Mr. Johnson! I saw your name/photo on Jim Tunnell's blog a month or so ago and asked Linda about you tonight. She pointed me to your blog. My siblings and I (Fawcett's) all have fond memories of you and when we have need of a good grammatical exercise (it happened last week) we recite "be am is are was were been being" or "I you he she it we you they my mine your yours me you him her it us you them". Ha ha. Talk about indoctrination! We'll never forget it.

    We used to pick strawberries at the church farm between Monroe and Sultan for a few days or a week in the summer. I think we got something like 15 cents a pound for picking them. We came home with stained red hands and had to bleach them back to normal color. Those were some fun times. I think the farm was sold maybe 10 or 15 years ago.

  6. So good to hear from a former "A" student--and a Fawcett, as well! Indoctrination??? Hmmmm, I prefer one call it "Life Patterning." Perhaps you remember my words regarding the "memory work": "Once you're credited with a memory assignment, you're responsible for remembering it for the rest of the school year. Then you can forget it...if you can." I'm impressed with your memory work but would have been even more impressed had you recited your subordinating conjunctions.... Thanks for following my blog. What a pleasure to hear from you, Ms. Bridget. And thanks, too, for your contribution to this post.

  7. "Life patterning", huh? I'll have to use that one. I'm sure my kids will love it, too!

    Stuborndinating conjunctions...was that the "and or but yet so for nor" list? The lists remain...the titles do not. Ha ha. (Do I dare admit that I now have an English degree from WWU? And got pretty deep into Chomsky's Universal Grammar?)

  8. I've also got appear become look remain stay in my head...and sometimes other sequences of words pop into my head and I recite them but the rhythm is off so I know I'm missing a word. You should do a post including all the lists you had us memorize. Then we could have a competition between your former students and find out who can recite the lists the fastest.

  9. Do does did. Have has had. Can could will would shall should may might must.

    So many words...