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THE PUBLIX NEXT DOOR My Grandpa’s Pet-Project-Turned-Grocery-Store
My granddaddy’s garden started small. It was just a few citrus trees along the side of his house — tangerines, lemons, and grapefruit — and maybe six rows of assorted vegetables. He and my grandma lived right across the street, so whenever my parents needed some fresh ingredients, they sent us over there to grab a couple tomatoes, a bell pepper, beans, carrots, or whatever they had in stock. His garden was a relatively normal operation at the beginning. operation in the half-acre of woods behind our house. And then it seemed like almost overnight, there was another quarter-acre setup out beside the lake next to our house. They had a total of three sizeable gardens overflowing with basically all the food anyone could ever need. I’m sure I could have appreciated the fresh produce coming in day after day a lot more, but as a kid, it was just food — except for the fruit. The instant the citrus ripened, we were out in the yard picking the limbs clean and stuffing our faces with oranges and tangerines. I won’t lie; occasionally, my cousins and I got into tangerine fights with each other that didn’t end well for anyone. Between what the family brought in, our battles, and our frenzy for delicious citrus, if it wasn’t rotten or unripe, it got eaten. Of course, with him in charge, that didn’t last long. Pretty soon, they had a second and much bigger
If they were still around and running those acres of gardens today, I would envision Granddaddy piling everything into the car and driving it out to a farmer’s market. (But back then, farmer’s markets were not around.) Although, knowing him, he’d have a hard time parting with any of the fruits of his labor at any price close to reasonable. More likely, he’d say something gruff about how many dozens of hours he had put into growing the produce and end up taking it back home. My Granddaddy was good at everything he put his mind to. I’ve written before about the incredible bark art he made, the wooden toys he’d carve for us kids, and his depth of knowledge about what seemed like any subject. And my grandma was pretty amazing herself, a woman of many talents and boundless kindness. Thanks to their hard work, going to their house was like going to a grocery store. I don’t have many tangerine battles these days, but when I see citrus trees across the state of Florida, I’m reminded of those days on my grandparents’ makeshift farm. As you can imagine, no produce today really compares to what we had growing up.
The gardens were my grandpa’s pet project — one among many — but Grandma worked on it all the time, often with my territorial dog, Spunky, in tow. Since there was way too much for any one family to consume, she was always working to can the food and store it away. We chipped in pretty regularly as well, whether there were weeds to pull or seeds to plant.
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