Tackling a garden for the first time - Kathy Jefcoats

Have I mentioned I am from St. Louis? Well, I am and my husband and his family are from Mississippi, unquestionably the South, as is Georgia. Missouri, as I learned in elementary school, was a divided state, loyal neither to the Union nor the Confederacy. That was quite the different story when I moved to Macon in the 1970s.

According to my southern classmates, St. Louis – and, indeed, any city north of the Georgia state line – is in the north, which made me a Yankee to them. I tried at first to explain the difference but gave up when I was bombarded with the taunting threat, "The South will rise again." I don't think anyone is really concerned about that happening anywhere but in the South but that didn't seem to matter to my fellow students. I gave up and took on the Yankee tag, I don't really care one way or the other. As far as I know, no one in my family ever owned slaves and I can find no evidence that anyone in my family fought in the Civil War.

When I married into this decidedly southern family, I became "the Yankee Phillip married." His two brothers married southern women so I know I was different in that respect but the cultural differences hit home more in the kitchen. My mother-in-law is a good southern cook, preparing black-eyed peas, cornbread, greens and other vegetables swimming with fat and lard. I was raised on green peas, broccoli, brussels sprouts and asparagus and dinner rolls. My grandmother always cooked pot roast with carrots, potatoes and onions every Sunday afternoon.

Until I met my husband, I never knew you could have a meal that didn't involve meat. They actually would have vegetables-only dinners, which was foreign to me. The difference in our food tastes were so great, my mother-in-law would call my husband into the kitchen, show him what she'd fixed and asked if there was anything that I would eat or if she'd have to cook something else. Most of them time she'd have to cook something else.

They've all tolerated me, teased me about not so much being a Yankee, which geographically speaking, I am not, but more so about not being Southern, but we all learned to get along. Sure, there was the joke about the first time I fixed chicken and dumplings and used all-purpose flour without adding salt and baking powder. Yeah, there was the time I served undercooked rice and, yes, I brought my husband a steak that looked beautiful on one side but that was burned on the other but that had more to do with my inexperience than my non-Southernness.

So I was quite surprised to be the designated person to dig my mother-in-law's garden this year. Looking back, I can see that it may have been more a matter of none of her sons wanting to do it than my being the garden expert, which I am not. I remember my mom having a garden once and being forced to work in it and hating every minute of it. But I have never actually cut rows before.

My mother-in-law had to show me what to do. Really, twice. And even then, after the first row, I thought the planting was being done in the hollow. Not true, she told me. She was planting the seeds in the hills that I made while make the hollow. Who knew? It sure made hoeing the rest of the garden easier for me, though, knowing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

I meant to measure the length of the rows because I knew I was going to write about it and wanted to be sure to be exact but I haven't done that yet. Suffice it to say, they are long rows, long, long rows. I was really proud when I got done and showed them off. My mother-in-law seemed impressed but I was doubtful so I asked her if she planned to re-do them after I left. She assured me she would not but I still looked for signs she had when I returned the following week.

I guess I should explain that my husband and I visit her in Monroe County every Sunday to work on her property. We cut trees and burn them, help her plant her gardens, cut grass, just help her get it into shape. She moved there two years ago and the land really needs work. She is 68 now and we don't want her doing more than she should on her own. I was in charge of the fire a couple weeks ago and my husband said something I am sure he thought was funny but wasn't well-thought out.

He expressed amazement that I had such a good fire going.

"We didn't think a Yankee could start a fire and keep it going," he said.

"Need I remind you of a certain Yankee named William Tecumseh Sherman who started a pretty good fire in Atlanta some years back?" I asked him.

My mother-in-law just laughed. I love her.

Kathy Jefcoats is the public safety reporter for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at kjefcoats@henryherald.com.