So my wife, Sue, went out yesterday morning to see what was ripe in our tiny vegetable garden and came in with a colander filled with fresh green beans, leaf lettuce, and—will wonders never cease—a large, red, ripe tomato.
According to her garden diary, this was the earliest we’ve ever harvested a full-sized tomato. Cherry tomatoes ripen early, of course, as do the German strawberry variety she planted this year, purchased at Contrary Mary’s. But full-sized tomatoes?
The other thing she brought in from her labors was a nice bunch of ripe black raspberries, picked from the canes that grow along the railroad track that runs along our east property line. This year, for a wonder, there was plenty of rain to produce nice plump berries. Also, the railroad has (so far) failed to spray its right-of-way with Agent Orange or whatever it is they use to kill off all the vegetation along the tracks.
Up on the other side of the tracks there are, or at least there used to be, a few blackberry bushes (these, as Wikipedia dryly notes, are the fruits, not the handheld communication device) but I’ve always found them a bit tasteless. Black raspberries, on the other hand, are smaller, but much sweeter and tasty.
I always wonder if the canes growing along the tracks are descendants of the ones my great-grandparents planted after they moved to town when they retired from farming. They moved to our house in October 1908, prepared to spend a decade, or maybe two, in retirement. But they hadn’t counted on their longevity. They both lived to see their middle 90s and to celebrate their 72nd wedding anniversary.
That long life meant the savings they’d planned to live off, as well as hopes for some support from their children, slowly evaporated. So they resorted to selling produce from their gardens and orchard, including apples and apricots in the orchard north of the house, black walnuts from the trees lining the street they planted in front of the house, and a large patch of black raspberry bushes east of the house near the tracks.
Grandpa Lantz died here at our house at the age of 95 in October 1942, 34 years after he and his wife moved in. Grandma Lantz, two years his junior, followed him in September 1943.
When my parents bought the house from my grandparents, the orchard to the north and the raspberry patch and gardens to the east had turned into impenetrable thickets. So mom had her cousin, Mike Lantz, bring his bulldozer down and clear it off, removing the low berm along the rail line while he was at it. My dad, mom, sister, and I (I was 9 at the time) raked the rocks and roots out with garden rakes and dad spread a little grass seed around and that was about it.
Raspberry roots are tough things, though, and it wasn’t long before they started growing again where it was hard to mow due to the rocks in the rail line’s ballast.
Despite being periodically sprayed with all manner of vegetation sterilizers, they just keep coming back, year after year, providing the basis for rich black raspberry jams and jellies and cobblers and fresh black raspberry sundaes on hot summer evenings, a tangible, tasty, reminder of family days gone by.