I stuck a garden hoe between the curved handlebars of my ten-speed bicycle. Bill carried the rake. We pedaled five miles from our home in Three Springs to our family’s huge vegetable garden located on a piece of land next to Bob Garlock’s junk yard . Most children were sleeping at 6 a.m. on hot summer mornings. We were up early. We wanted to beat the heat of day.
According to our stepfather, Bob, conditions of the garden and the weeds within was “unacceptable” and worthy of a beating “across the arse” with a wooden paddle. Bob made his prized paddle in a carpentry shop which once his racecar garage. He called the wooden paddle ‘the reminder’ and carved not only holes in the object for extra sting, but actually wrote the word “reminder” on the damned thing. Like the rake stuck between my handlebars, the wooden paddle was kept on a shelf near the aluminum door of our green and white trailer.
It seemed unfair to Bill and me that our parents chose not buy canned vegetables. Instead, we grew enough corn, tomatoes and potatoes to feed our entire town. Our step-father worked away on construction jobs during the summer. He left strict orders on what chores needed to be done before he returned home on Fridays.
“You kids think life is easy. When I was your age, I spent all day in the fields. We didn’t have swimming pools when I was a kid. Let me tell you, if I find one weed in the garden or if it ain’t hoed right, you will be restricted from playing little league and going to the swimming pool for the rest of the summer!”
The land on which we grew our crops belonged by Bob Garlock. He purchased a large piece of property that was once a pig farm and had plans of converting it to a junkyard. Garlock was a used car salesman and best friends with our stepfather whose name was also Bob. It angered Bill and me that Ryan and Robbie Garlock, the sons of the used car dealer, didn’t have to work in the gardens that their father had planted next to ours. Although their fields had weeds, their crops seemed to do just as well. Bill concluded that our step-father simply liked to torment us and enjoyed making our young lives a living hell. I tried to stay happy, keep a smile on my face and I always whistled when I worked. At least Bill had his joy of fishing. Restriction from the town swimming pool would ruin what little joy their was left to my creative and playful side.
Mom typically drove us in our family’s blue Chevy pick-up truck to the garden, but Bob decided that the family could save on gas if we rode our ten-speed bikes to the gardens instead—
“Your bikes costs me a couple hundred dollars last Christmas. It ain’t gonna hurt you to ride your bikes to the garden. Your mom has got enough to do. Just be careful on the roads. Watch for traffic. Be ready, because we are going to have to start watering soon. If you think weeding is bad, just wait ‘til you carry two ten gallon buckets at a time.”
A thunderstorm swept over the rolling farmland of Central Pennsylvania just as we were half-way to the garden. We took off our drenched t-shirts and continued pedaling in the downpour, thankful that it was still early summer and rain was falling. The rain felt good. At 6 a.m. it was already eighty-five degrees.
The tall weeds that littered perfectly parallel rows of corn came out easy, thanks to the rain. Bill quickly finished weeding twenty- three rows of corn. I finished my task of dusting the potatoes with lime sifted through a burlap sack. I joined my brother to help him finish weeding the seemingly endless rows of corn. I heard a faint cry ahead of me, from Bill, way down the row where there seemed to be a stirring among the tall tops of green corn. I continued to remove all the weeds until I arrived to discover what was making the corn commotion.
“There’s a raccoon caugtht in one of the traps. Get me a club or big stick!”
Our step-father placed metal, spring traps throughout the garden to keep the wild game at bay. Rarely did we catch anything. The animals seemed to know not to touch the sardines that were placed on the traps and preferred eating the fresh corn instead.
The huge creature looked at us with frightened black eyes. The animal’s foot was caught in the trap.
“What are we going to do?” I asked Bill.
“Gotta kill it. Can’t set it free now. It will die.” He explained.
I handed him the hoe that was once a long set of wooden handle bars. I closed my eyes as my big brother slammed the hoe upon its head, as if the entire task was as trivial as putting a stick-worm on a hook.
When the raccoon finally stopped moving, we finished weeding.