Every spring I take stock. I look around my village to see what has changed since this time last year. The feed store still sells baby chicks. Someone plowed the fields at the north end again, and buds are swelling on the apple trees.
At my grocery store, the FrontierMart, we still sell asparagus gathered from along the irrigation ditch; and children still buy jacks, jump ropes, and kites. But near the door between the Popsicle freezer and the 50-pound dog food, the garden seed display is gone.
Last year, with the new mall and nursery down the road, I didn’t sell enough seeds to warrant ordering more. Now I miss getting the big parcel where tab A slid into slot B and all that cardboard folded magically into a display of snapdragons and four-o-clocks, zucchini, carrots, and lima beans.
No sooner would I assemble the display than old men in coveralls would come to read the seed packets, to talk about sunlight, soil, and water requirements, to count the days until maturity. They fingered the envelopes like children at the candy counter, then carried their selections away like packets of promise.
Three of my seed customers were Ramon and Julio Tenorio and Walter Atkerson. Maybe a storekeeper shouldn’t play favorites, but in 19 years of business, Ramon, Julio, and Walter are at the top of my list.
They grew corn and cabbage and raised pigs. Ramon and Julio were brothers from one of the old families. On spring mornings Julio and his horse, Smokey, plowed the field at the corner of Tenorio and Corrales Roads. Walter was a cowboy who had come down from Colorado (pronounced Co-lo-ray-do) in the 1940s. He’s the only 82-year-old I’ve ever known who rode his horse every day.
Ramon and Walter were best friends who traveled together. When Walter’s car wouldn’t start, they rode to my store on a red tractor with Ramon in the driver’s seat and Walter standing alongside. They bought Jimmy Dean sausage, single-edge razor blades, and shaving cream in a cup with a bristle brush. Heading home, the old tractor crept along the two-lane road at 15 miles per hour; and cars moved into the left lane to pass. Traffic was light then, tractors commonplace.
On Friday nights when I saw Ramon and Walter’s red tractor parked at the Territorial House, I’d stop and find them in the cantina. Ramon talked about family and farming; Walter told about his days as a cowboy on the Black Ranch. Around 11:00 I’d say, “Time for me to go. You guys behave.”
Ramon would look offended. “I always behave,” he’d say. “I work hard; and when I go to church I keep my eyes off the pretty girls.”
Walter would snort and mumble something about blowing smoke.
Julio, Ramon, and Walter haven’t been in the store for a long time now. I didn’t mark their last visit or say good-bye. One day I just realized they hadn’t been in. I’m told Julio and Ramon died more than a year ago. Walter’s gone now, too.
There haven’t been many tractors on this old road since the highway department raised the speed limit. And out at the north end, I see fewer farms, more subdivisions.
Some Sunday mornings newcomers gather at my store to read the newspaper. They complain about high pollen counts and their allergies kicking up. How can it be that growing plants have become a menace?
Last week a customer spoke of planting watermelons. I told him I used to sell seeds, thinking maybe I would again.
He shook his head. “Don’t,” he said. “People buy plants nowadays, not seeds. Seeds are too much bother.”
I’d like to run that one past my old seed customers. I think of them whenever I think of spring and farming. It makes me look around to see what is missing. Then I mimorize what we have left in case it turns up missing next year.
What I’m trying to say is, if I’d known it was my last Burpee seed display, I would have paid more attention.
©Jean Blackmon Waszak 2000