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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

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An unwelcome ‘retirement’
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Friday, August 30, 2013

By CHARLES BOOTHE -

"I put her out to pasture."

With those few words, Uncle Paul created a bit of a stir in the family.

Not that anyone said anything directly to Uncle Paul or his wife, Aunt Angum. It was their business, and the only person I ever suspected of speaking to Aunt Angum privately about it was Aunt Ebb. But no one ever knew for sure.

Of course, tongues wagged.

Some thought what Uncle Paul did and said were fine, completely expected and morally correct.

Others thought he was being a bit of a bully, however good his intentions were.

The controversy began, as controversies often do, rather abruptly and very unexpectedly.

The conversation during an early March family get-together was a normal one, as everyone caught up with the comings and goings of each other. Jokes were told, people laughed, we all ate and had full bellies.

Then, probably because spring was fast approaching, the discussion turned to Aunt Angum's legendary gardening skills.

Listen, this saint of a woman was composting long before it became a granola-head fad. When she and Uncle Paul had a small farm of sorts, including a milk cow and some pigs, she buried manure during the cold months in the garden and slopped the hogs with scraps.

They moved and she no longer had a cow or hogs to slop, so she buried the table scraps all around her garden throughout the winter.

Her garden was always lush and bountiful, with soil so soft you sank up in it and vegetables so perfect you thought they had been grown in the Garden of Eden.

I always looked forward to August visits when the corn and tomatoes were fresh from the garden. Those double-sweet ears of corn usually pitted me and Uncle Paul against each other.

He was a big man and a big eater, so I had to eat those ears like they were the last I would ever have, teeth chomping from side to side and back again, sliding the ear like a harmonica, not putting an ear down until every kernel was eaten.

Then I would quickly grab another because I knew Uncle Paul would eat every last ear as fast as he could.

Aunt Angum canned her green beans and tomatoes. Cracking a jar open in the middle of January, they tasted like she just picked them from the garden.

She was a master gardener if there ever was one, and she did all the planting and hoeing by hand.

Fortunately for all of us, she was very generous with her bounty.

Aunt Angum was a very modest and humble woman, but I did notice she looked quite sad when we were talking about her garden.

Finally, she very quietly said she was not going to plant one the coming season.

Granted, Aunt Angum was getting up in years at the time, probably well into her 70s, but she was still very spry and active, a hard worker.

I think it was Aunt Ebb who responded first.

"Ain't nothin' wrong with you is it?" she asked, a little on the scared side.

"No, I'm fine," Aunt Angum answered.

"Well, what are you talkin' about then?" Aunt Ebb asked.

That's when Uncle Paul uttered the words.

"I put her out to pasture," he said, very proudly, as if he had done something noble.

He said she had been putting out a garden every year for the 50-plus years they had been married, and it was time for her to put down her hoe and rest.

His voice was sincere. No meanness or arrogance.

Uncle Paul said it with love, clearly convinced it was the right thing to do. After all, he would surely miss the food as much as any of us.

And as man of the house, going along with an accepted tradition at the time, it was his decision, not hers.

I could see the hurt in Aunt Angum's face. She was nowhere near ready to be put out to pasture. But I knew she would never let him know how much it hurt. She would do as he said, and never complain. That submission was part of her role, her job, her duty as his wife.

With all of the comments made afterwards about the subject, maybe Aunt Ebb summed up a more modern view of the incident when she said: "Ain't no man ever goin' to tell me what to do."

And no man ever did.

As for Aunt Angum, I am quite sure she was very sad a few years later when Uncle Paul passed away.

But as soon as she changed her clothes after the funeral, my guess is she went to the shed to find her hoe.

 
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