Big Ed lived the words of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Ed’s experiences growing up during the Great Depression had a lasting effect on him.
Born of a hard working Polish family they spent a great deal of time growing vegetables, (mostly cabbage) and raising chickens and rabbits. Tomatoes, green beans and barrels of sauerkraut would be put up for the winter months. The not-so-fortunate chickens and rabbits were predestined for Sunday dinners.
When the time came for Big Ed to raise his own family he brought that same self reliant approach along with him. Don’t buy what you can grow yourself. Don’t throw away what you might be able use later. Everything was either repairable or good for parts to patch up something else. Ed believed that all things had a potential usefulness. After all, one can never have enough string, wood screws, old radio knobs and stove bolts…you know, just in case.
Using the spokes of old bicycle wheels, he would attach empty beer cans around the outside of the rims and then stack them one on top of the other. Topping it off with an arched beer can roof, he’d proudly present another of his patented wishing wells. An absolute “must have” for every trendy Polish backyard. The Old Milwaukee model would look great positioned between a tractor-tire flower planter and a bathtub Madonna lawn shrine. Believe it or not, a truck driver traveling down Interstate 80 spotted his wishing wells and pulled over to buy one.
The 1960’s brought about a better economic period and his vegetable garden turned more into a pastime than a necessity. He started growing odd things like Jerusalem artichokes, strawberry popcorn, and one year almost an entire garden of okra of which he insisted the correct way to prepare it was to boil it into oblivion. That’s a real taste treat!
The garden’s coup de grâce was his attempt at growing “The Forty Pound Bean”. I have no idea of where he first heard of this thing. I can remember watching infomercials for the Chop-O-Matic, the Veg-O-Matic and Popeil’s Pocket Fisherman, but I never once heard anyone pitch the Forty Pound Bean. Ed somehow came into possession of these obscure seed packets and his addiction began.
He spent weeks preparing the soil precisely the way the package instructed to guarantee the best possible harvest. Ed carefully nursed the plants as they poked their heads out of the soil. Constantly weeding and watering, he stood guard making sure nothing would stunt their growth. He would give a full report of the crop’s progress at the dinner table each night.
These, “things” began to spread their tentacle-like vines throughout the garden, weaving themselves together to form what looked like a thick carpet. Soon blossoms appeared and the garden resembled a lily-pad patch in the quiet corner of a small pond. His plan was to harvest his prize crop when it reached precisely thirty pounds to assure the utmost tenderness.
As the beans began to form, Ed would painstakingly role each one to assure that sunlight nourished it on all sides. Watching this process was a thing to behold. A man wholly committed to his mission.
I was by no means what you would call a horticulturist, but these things didn’t look like any strain of bean I’d ever seen. They looked like some kind of squash; a banana squash to be exact…a garden full of perfectly shaped banana squash.
There is nothing quite like a late summer diet that regularly featured squash prepared as many different ways as my mom could come up with. Squash was sautéed, baked, pureed into a soup, tossed in a salad, and my personal favorite, thrown in the garbage when dad wasn’t looking. It took me years before I could stomach the thought of squash on my dinner table again.
Giving up on his bean dream, the following summer he planted enough cherry tomatoes to fill the Thornton stone quarry. Dad never lost the desire to garden. His garden shrunk in size as he aged, but his vision of harvesting a prize crop never wavered.
Today, I’m that old Polish guy who finds it hard to throw anything away. I love the challenge of repairing broken things by making use of my collection of other broken things. While flowers adorn my gardens, most of my fresh vegetables come from The Farmers Market. When I’m lucky enough to stumble upon a Forty Pound Bean, I like it roasted with brown sugar and butter…and when I serve it, I raise my fork and say, “Here’s to you dad.”