By: Ryan Bowman, HAHS President
June 14, 2023
Ted Keiter working his home garden - June 1967
It’s been a rough start to the growing season, has it not? Here’s some history for you. This past May was the driest one on record in Pennsylvania since they started keeping track 153 years ago. That’s right. The driest May since 1870. That’s saying something.
As I was watering our garden to keep the tomatoes from shriveling into dust one evening a couple of weeks ago, I had a deluge of memories that came down on me like a desperately needed rainstorm. Looking back to my youth, I recalled so many neighbors, family and friends with gardens.
In fact, it seemed like everyone had a garden then. Chap Corsnitz harvested and gave me seeds from his sunflowers every time I passed by, I ate concord grapes in the warmth of the late summer from Kathryn Altland’s backyard vine, when they would visit our home, family or friends would bring extra produce they couldn’t use, and we as a family would spend entire weekends harvesting sweet corn and tomatoes that mom canned for the winter. Out of these gardening memories however, there is one I always look back on with great fondness…
My grandfather, Theodore (Ted) Keiter, had a garden worth remembering. At 47 years old I can say that now. Simply for the fact that I dearly remember his garden. As a kid I would run around he and my grandmother’s property on the south side of the village of Matamoras in Halifax as he worked away summer afternoons in that well-tended space of soil in the late day shadow of a looming cherry tree between his garage, and route 225.
Beets, yams, potatoes, onions, strawberries, tomatoes, sweet corn, and more would abound as the summer waned. As a normal, junk food loving, vegetable scoffing youth in the 1980’s, I couldn’t stand much of any of it. Except the carrots. Oh, the carrots. I remember helping take the harvest into his dirt floor root cellar, in the back corner of the basement through the old wood door.
There, one day, he handed me a carrot, offering me a taste of the thing just minutes ago harvested from the yard. To this day, there are times I bite into a carrot, and it has that same taste. Somehow, that exact same taste! I am instantly whisked back to that very room, standing there with my grandfather and looking on him as he beamed with pride at the bounty he had gleaned from his land with his own toil. A lesson I still carry deep in my heart to this very day.
Since those days long ago, I have learned to love vegetables (thanks to the ever present pushing and culinary magic of first my mother and then my lovely wife) and all these years later, for decades now, our family has sustained a sizable plot of land from which we grow and harvest fruits, vegetables, and memories of our own.
So, here’s a suggestion. If you haven’t already, start a garden. Any size. Get your kids and/or grandkids out in the dirt to grow something with them that they’ll eat. Or won’t. Either way, you’ll be planting seeds in them that will establish a bond lasting forever. They may not realize it now, but someday they will. Trust me. They will.
And while you’re at it, bring them out to some Historical Society events this new program season (check out the society website for schedule and details - www.halifaxareahistoricalsociety.com). They can help plant completely different seeds in inquiring young minds. After all, as much as we need lovers of vegetables to pass the torch on to the next generation, we need lovers of Halifax and American history to do the same.
Growing season is upon us, so let’s make history!