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To Can … or Not to Can?

Mecklenburg County, Va., teacher recalls father’s passion for gardening

July 2024

Lawrence Ray Greene on his tractor. (Courtesy of Michelle Greene Dean)

by Michelle Greene Dean, Contributing Writer

To most people, a jar of canned string beans is just that: a jar of canned string beans. Some feel that canning any vegetable is unnecessary. They say, “Just buy them in the supermarket. Why waste all that time, water and energy doing it yourself ?” 

I would like to counter that canning vegetables is a spiritually rewarding effort. Looking at all the jars lined up on my pantry shelves, in all their sundry colors, they remind me of bountiful summers and a job well done.

I am thankful for the many blessings of the summers, especially those with plentiful rain, like last summer. When I look at those jars, I remember the mornings picking those beans. The warm ones, windy ones, cool ones and cloudy ones; just my family and I, and the mockingbirds in the cedar tree beside the garden.

Lawrence Ray Greene in his garden. He was known to many as “High Pockets” because he was 6 feet, 6 inches tall. (Courtesy of Michelle Greene Dean)

Lawrence Ray Greene enjoyed growing and sharing fresh produce with his family and neighbors.

As I was picking several rows of string beans last summer, I was reminded of how Daddy worked in this garden for as long as I can remember. He used a Farmall-140 tractor to plant each row straight as an arrow. He kept weeds at bay with a garden hoe that he owned for who knows how long. That particular hoe is special to me. The metal blade once had two pointed corners but they are now smooth and rounded; a symbol of Daddy’s dedication and hard work to keep the garden weed-free. He enjoyed growing and sharing fresh produce with his family and neighbors, and that memory makes me smile.

Rural living is where memories are made daily. For me, those memories are precious, as we lost Daddy in 2020. As I weed and pick the produce in his garden now, memories of him can’t help but flood my soul.

As my family sits down for supper (it’s not called dinner where I’m from) at the end of the harvest season, we talk about how many quarts or pints we canned, and what we might do differently next year. We also discuss what seed varieties might grow best in our sandy-loam soil. These conversations continue until the pie is served. It’s all part of a “take pride in your work” thing; a concept Daddy taught us, and one that we continue to live by.