The phone rang yesterday afternoon and it was my old friend Ray in Pennsylvania. He said, “I was just sitting here on my porch and I thought about you on your porch so I decided to call.” I was glad he did and, fortunately, I was not sitting on my porch so the phone got answered. The wonderful thing about old friends – friends you have known forever – is that commonality of experience. You can talk about things without going in to a lot of explanation of background and circumstances and such – you just know.
So while we were gabbing he told me about an experience he had a few years back. Ray is a photographer and historian and he had a job involving interviewing some of the nuns at our local convent. He told me he was a bit nervous about this. Both Ray and I went to local Catholic grade schools and the Catholic high school where the nuns taught. He also grew up a few blocks from the convent. He told me that, when he was a kid, one of the most fun of summertime activities was what we used to call garden raiding. Back then everybody had a garden, including the nuns at their convent. On warm summer evenings just after dark, it was common practice to go swipe a few tasty treats from neighborhood gardens. We were always careful not to damage any of the plants and to only snitch a few items from each garden. We didn't destroy anything, we just helped ourselves to a tomato here and some carrots there, a few green beans, a handful of peas. We hoped no one ever noticed.
What made the nuns' garden special was that they raised watermelons. So, naturally, Ray and his buddies always had to liberate a few over the course of the summer. Now, as a grown man, he was going to interview one of the elderly nuns who was one of the gardeners at that time. Despite being considerably less devout than he was as a boy, being reared by nuns does tend to instill a certain morality that is hard to shake even if you've shaken much of your faith. So, Ray went in to the interview by apologizing to the sister for the many watermelons he had pilfered from her garden over the years. He told me Sister laughed and said, “Do you think we didn't know what you were doing? We always got a chuckle out of the kids who thought they were getting away with something.”
Ray said he was stunned. He had no idea he wasn't half as clever as he thought he was. “But,” he told me, “those watermelons were the sweetest ones I ever had – before or since.”
I loved his story and we talked about other garden raiding adventures. He told me about a neighbor who was famous for his huge delicious carrots. He kept the ground so loose around them, Ray said, that you could shove your arm into the ground up to your elbow. I remembered discovering that a certain neighbor had a particularly sweet variety of onions that I became addicted to – they were onion-y in flavor but so sweet they were irresistible. I nearly cleaned him out that summer.
One of the things that we often did was snitch potatoes and then roast them in a fire built I the field below our house. Of course potato roasts were regular occurrences anyway – even with legally obtained potatoes. My Mom had this round metal beer tray with a picture of a Dutch girl in a blue dress, I still remember that tray. While we built the fire she would scrub potatoes, wrap them in aluminum foil, fill the tray, and when the fire had a good supply of glowing coals under it, we buried the potatoes in the coals. When they were tender when poked with a stick we would sit on the front porch and eat them with butter, salt and pepper – beer for the grownups, lemonaid for the kids. But the swiped potatoes were always sweeter.
Just like those watermelons from the nuns. Thanks, Sisters.
Thanks for reading.