Grandfather versus the banks, or, Not with my money you don’t!

United States #bank failures

My grandfather came of age when there were few banks in our rural area. He was gradually warming to them when the Great Depression hit and so many of them failed. It was an attitude that he never really overcame. “They’re out … Continue reading

Grandfathers can be pretty smart too, or, If you fall down, go to Grandpa

#chicks #chickens #farms

Last time we talked, I told you about how my grandmother outfoxed my ambitions to be a queen. Well, she wasn’t the only one who knew a thing or two about children.
The story is often told in our family of “Grandfather’s Miracle”. I am told that I crawled early, walked early, and got around with a single-minded speed that could be pretty unnerving. But apparently one day I simply woke up, went back to crawling, and would have nothing more to do with walking. Continue reading

Grandmothers and child psychology, or, How not to be Queen for a Day

Elderly couple with woman #parents #grandparents #elderly men #elderly women #family

There are certain things they don’t tell you about grandmothers: they can be cunning under all that silver hair and talcum powder. Gullible, unsuspecting little girls don’t stand a chance. I know. I learned the hard way. Here is my cautionary tale: Continue reading

Memories of Grandfather’s chick house

An East Texas chick house, old building of tin and wood

I’ve been a little shaky in my resolve to come back here: after all, it’s been torn down for years. It’s all tract homes now, pretty and rural, but still…. They should have left it the way it was, the way it was when we had fun here. When we worked here. When we couldn’t wait to unfasten the latch and see our tiny fluff-balls of chicks. Continue reading

How Grandfather invented windowscaping, or, every room needs a beautiful view

My grandmother’s health took a downturn when she was in her forties, and the doctor ordered her to bed for almost six months. Dear Grandfather was beside himself. My mother took over many of the household duties and swore that was why she was such a good cook. But my poor grandfather felt helpless.
“What can I do?” he would plead, but there seemed to be nothing to do but what he was already doing.
Then one day he had an idea.
My mother was looking out the back door when Grandfather creaked open the metal arched gate to the back yard with a gorgeous pale yellow jasmine plant in his arms.

“Where’re you gonna put it?” My mother asked.

“Outside your mother’s window, so she can smell it all day long.”

He placed it just so, asking Grandmother if she could see it better here or there – sort of like an optometrist appointment. And after a half hour’s work and many anguished questions through the screen from my grandmother, the jasmine stood tall, proud, staked and fertilized just outside her window. She enjoyed the scent that came in on the breeze and the beautiful blossoms. Grandmother always swore it helped her recover.

This success went to my grandfather’s head. He had discovered a way to satisfy a very basic human need – the need for beauty. He was on a roll. Every bedroom – all two of them – had to have something sweet-smelling outside the windows. For my mother and father’s room, it was honeysuckle. What heaven! Then he attacked every other window in our little house, digging and planting and rearranging and paying visits to the neighbors to see if they would mind letting him have a cutting from an admired plant. He became a regular at the nursery. If “frequent shopper” rewards had existed back then, he would have been able to buy a new car.

He moved past the search for intoxicating scents and on to the aesthetics of gardening. Every window smelled good; now it had to have a beautiful view. More huffing and puffing and planting ensued. When my grandmother was up and around again, she decided that what was inside could help what was outside. To accent the yellow-blooming jasmine, she brought in yellow and white flowers with a long trail of ivy and put them in a milk-glass vase by the window to tie the two together.

Blue hydrangea #flowers #hydrangea #blooms #blossoms #flowers #gardening

Image “Blue Hydrangea” courtesy of panuruangjan at

Under the front windows was a stand of hydrangea. These she doctored with vinegar or lime to change the acidity of the soil and thereby the color of the blooms. As time went on, she had a multicolored group of the loveliest flowers in the neighborhood. And she could enjoy them from the kitchen window.

Their philosophy of gardening and decorating hinged on a deep-rooted love of nature that came from living in quiet country places blessed with lush vegetation, fresh air and abundant wildlife. Growing up in a naturally beautiful environment gave them sights into beauty that otherwise could take many years to learn.

I still think of my childhood home and the example set for me there, and at my own home there is something I love to see outside every window but one.

I’m working on it….

Modern methods of changing hydrangea color can be found at Gardenista.

Better Homes and Gardens has lovely ideas for planting window boxes.

Southern Living has a great list of the best spring flowers to plant.

For windowsill gardens, Better Homes and Gardens has good ideas on that, too.

For color theory in flower gardening, take a peek at House and Garden Television.

Text copyright ©Jill Teresa Farmer, 2015

Happy family reunion, or, how to get in trouble without really trying

Little girl with a pan of corn #children #corn #summer #girls

A family reunion and a platter of corn on the cob earned me a reputation as a terrible dinner guest. Maybe I was, but in my defense I was only three or four years old at the time and my social graces were limited. Nevertheless, you would have thought I’d managed to violate every code of Southern honor and Emily Post rule of etiquette that ever existed. But maybe I’d better tell you what happened. Continue reading

Walks in the woods – Bring your bucket, shovel and the Guide to Wildflowers

forest with blue and pink wildflowers

(Image courtesy of Rob Wiltshire at

Some of the happiest outings of my parents and grandparents and I were treks in the woods. Sometimes it was a trip that ended in the Davy Crockett National Forest, where we walked under the many different types of pine trees and competed to see who could name the species first. I loved the “loblolly” pine. Who wouldn’t with a name like that? Then we’d rest on a bench and unpack our lunch of ham sandwiches, Fritos and Dr. Peppers.

Often we’d go to the woods for a different purpose – to get humus (not the edible hummus!), the wonderful soil that is produced by decaying leaves. Rich in nutrients and marvelous in texture, it is perfect for flowerbeds. Instant naturally composted topsoil! We’d bring our bucket and shovel and set out driving down the back roads, eyes peeled for side roads and a promising stand of  thick trees and healthy undergrowth. All the while we’d be watching carefully for the “Posted, No Trespassing” signs that we often encountered. We knew to steer clear of them, especially the homemade ones with a rifle sketched underneath misspelled words. “Trespassers will be shot on sight” was also effective.

But it would always end in a good tramp in the woods, as we carried our bucket, shovel and Field Guide to Wildflowers. You never knew, after all, when you might spot something you’d never seen before. Soon we’d be shoveling a bucketful of rich earth, inhaling that wonderful fragrance that is so dear to the heart of every country lover.

blue and orange wildflowers

Poppies and Bluettes
(Image courtesy of Dan at

The biggest thrills of these trips were the wildflowers we encountered. I still remember my first Jack-in-the-pulpit. And of course there were always the beautiful Texas bluebonnets that lined the highways. Indian Paintbrush was another favorite. There were so many. And if we hit a snag on naming one, my grandmother would whip out the wildflower guide, lick one long elegant forefinger, and turn the pages until she found it. Then she’d carefully annotate the description with the date, time, and place we’d first spotted it. Everyone would stumble over the Latin pronunciation of the names until my father could bear it no more. He’d take over and carefully pronounce the long, scientific name.

The most curious of all was one singular tree that grew in the woods, near the side of the road. We never understood why someone hadn’t dug it up and carried it off as a garden trophy long before. It was a Grancy Greybeard. Sound familiar? I didn’t think so. They tell me that up North it is called a Fringe Tree. In spring it is a small tree covered with lacy white blooms. The car would fill with “oohs”s and “aahh”s whenever we’d pass it.

Back then we lived among such a profusion of trees and flowers that it never occurred to us that we might be upsetting the balance of nature by taking home a bouquet of wildflowers and a handful of pine cones. Who knew that one day, in our lifetimes, these things would become endangered by their very admirers?

girl with a garland of flowers


Once home, my father and grandfather would man the shovels and work the humus into the flowerbeds under the watchful eye and direction of my mother. My grandmother would be making the ice tea – plenty of lemon and sugar, please – and getting ready for the best part of the day: a long time sitting on the front porch, aching pleasantly from digging, talking to gathering neighbors about what we’d seen, passing around the Wildflower Guide for everyone to admire all those dates and check marks. I would always be trying to make an arrangement or a daisy chain as the family dog pushed her nose into the blooms, trying to get the attention she’d missed while we were gone.

Those were happy days.

Text copyright 2015 by Jill Teresa Farmer. All rights reserved.