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My favorite time of day was the early morning when we would help Daddy Ray in his organic garden. Gardening was the norm in that area, and neighborhood families took great pride in competing with each other. Who could grow the biggest and tastiest squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, and "ter-maters"? Just about every home in this little town had a working garden—they took up at least half of the large yards—and our white and black neighbors traded vegetables, freshly caught fish, and venison to help each other out. As a result, we always had fresh lettuce with Italian dressing and ripe, pungent tomatoes that were blood-red on the inside. We grew our own onions, scallions, radishes, and carrots, and on the far side of my grandparents' house was a big strawberry patch. In the middle of the patch was a tree that bore golden freestone peaches with little clefts in the sides that turned orange when the peaches were ripe. Beside the peach tree were a prolific black walnut tree and a cherry tree, full of dark red bing cherries that weighed the branches down when they were ready for picking.

We ate like royalty back then because everything was fresh. This was before the emergence of the massive supermarkets where we buy our food today. We got our protein from the Korean deli around the corner, where they sold freshly killed chickens and recently caught fish. Some of our neighbors had chickens on their property and a cutoff tree stump for slaughtering them. They would catch a chicken, wring its neck and lay it across the stump, chop off its head like with a guillotine, and drain the blood. Then, to remove the feathers easily, they would drop it into boiling water for a few seconds.

When the men took off on hunting expeditions into the high country of Colorado or Wyoming, they brought back pheasant, game hens, wild turkeys, elks, and antelope. They fished for river catfish, bass, and lake trout, and my grandfather taught us kids to fly-fish. Daddy Ray was obsessed with teaching us to be self-sufficient, and we all had to learn to tie flies onto the hooks with pieces of carpeting and feathers and shiny wool. Then we were taught to cast a fly rod so we could catch German brown, rainbow, and speckled trout. We also took turns learning to steer the fishing boat through the water.

Some of the girls said, "I'm scared, Daddy Ray. I don't know how to steer a boat. I can't."

"You can't be scared," he told them, "or you can't come with me. If something happens to me, you have to be able to bring the boat back to shore." We also loved waterskiing and we needed to steer a boat for that, too. I was always the first in line to learn whatever he showed us.

FROM: The Bravest Families in America
Published on February 03, 2011

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