Gardening GlimpsesBy MRS. HERMAN MCKENZIE,
Vicki McKay, my devoted caregiver and dearest and most reliable friend, came to us just before Christmas of 2016. She called and said, “I’m weary of the job I have now and have just decided I am going into a people-oriented type of caregiving. I thought of you all first and also thought maybe you’d look at my letter about what I am offering to do.”
Vicki had been a good friend for probably 14 years, so we said, “Sign us up and be here Friday morning to go do the grocery shopping at least, which has become almost impossible for us to handle. But save Fridays for us, for sure.”
Her proposal letter was excellent and covered many different jobs which she never got to do. Within three days her life was filled with pure caregiving jobs, at which she was superb.
She and my husband Herman were special friends. He was then still driving to the dry-cleaners several days a week. Vicki didn’t quite know what to think of me, since I was always suggesting things that were more important than a strict cleaning schedule.
That first week I looked out the window, and a light dawned.
“Vicki, I have been trying for months to hire me a gardener, for starters to get my daffodils planted. Will you be my gardener?”
Her answer was typical, “If you will teach me how, I’ll do my best.”
But the great breakthrough came one day when I sat her down to have a serious talk, wondering if she would possibly give up a free weekend to drive me to a new daffodil show.”
Her eyes lighted up and she said “A road trip. I’ve never been on a road trip,” and added, “I’ve never been to a flower show or toured a show garden either.”
She planted my daffodils, enabling me to sit down on the ground and reach as far into the beds as I could go. She went to two shows within three weeks and meanwhile learned she could plant a tree and all sorts of other skills. But always from my list and following my instructions.
But now, suddenly, she has become an independent specialist, with her own agenda. She is now the Blueberry Queen. And everything else takes second place if it needs to.
It all started very simply. One morning I said, “It’s June 6. I remember we always came home from National Academic Competition around D-Day and found the blueberries were ready to pick. When Pete (her equally wonderful and valuable husband) comes to mow at the pond, why don’t you ride down to the lake with him and see whether the blueberries are getting ripe.”
“You have ripe blueberries on those bushes,” she said. You planted them - I remember you showing me how they were the only bushes you dug up and brought out here from your garden in town. And they have berries we can eat.”
She took off at once and didn’t wait for Pete. He’d done lots of mowing and cleaning up the back yard, before she belatedly came to put our lunch together. And she was now a blueberry specialist. Each day on a regular schedule, she donned her straw hat and went to pick the blueberries. Then came back to ask questions about these plants new to her and to do things with the fruit of her labor. We grew accustomed to pans of blueberries, washed and set out to dry, before they were packaged for the freezer.
Packages for us and packages for them, some to take home with them, for her to eat with her breakfast oatmeal. Some to share with family.
She seemed to know instinctively how to let them roll off her fingers to see which were ripe and ready for the picking. But she was full of questions - how had I known how to plant them, or what kinds to select and was it true that you shouldn’t pick any crop from the whole first year and why not?
“My mother planted hers, and I copied what she did.” (Vicki has learned that’s my usual answer; but she wanted no part of her recipes for blueberry sauce that Mother and I invented, as her cooking nowadays is sugar-free.) I also said I just bought a collection marked Blueberries for the South from one of the major catalogs; but now I could steer her to other sources for newer and more local varieties.
“I’ll call Billy Hutto, to see what he recommends.”
She assured me this afternoon that picking season was over and I know she knows. Because she has become a plant specialist, the best way of all, by falling in love with a plant and getting acquainted with it on a daily basis.
But I also realize that I had better, in all parts of the year that you are doing things with blueberries, take into consideration the fact that she may not always be available at a whim of mine.