Memories · The Last Half Century

A Penny Seed Packet Yields Life Lessons

Mid-summer in the MidWest. Hot, humid days, warm summer rains and fresh produce from the garden. It reminds me of the summer when I was a kid when my mom first gave me my own row in her garden and a special pack of seeds.

My mom was a master gardener. Each year she planted a huge garden so that she could can enough vegetables to last us all winter. In those days we received a paper seed catalog in the mail around January when the ground was frozen and still covered with snow. It was fun to sit and browse the catalog on a snowy day and dream about spring. Planning for her garden started around March when she ordered seeds via U.S. mail from the catalog. My mom would fill out a paper order form and mail it with a check to the seed company. Weeks later the seeds would arrive.

One year my mom pointed out that the seed company had a special mystery packet of seeds just for kids for one cent. The contents of the seed packet varied — you didn’t know exactly what you would get — which made it fun. I gave her my penny and she ordered the seed packet for me. I don’t think my mom realized that penny seed packet would challenge her gardening expertise.

When the seeds arrived, my mom showed me my special penny seed pack. I couldn’t wait to plant them. When the weather warmed, we set out to plant the garden. I had my assigned row and my mom helped me open the packet of seeds. She stared at the seeds in my hand for a minute. “I’m not sure what some of these are,” the veteran gardener remarked. I was surprised my little one cent seed packet stumped the expert.

My mom helped me plant my seeds in my special row and we waited for them to reveal their identity when they sprouted. Eventually, as the plants matured, my mom was able to identify most everything except one bushy plant that appeared to be a pumpkin or squash plant. When white, gourd-like, saucer-shaped objects appeared on the plant, my mom was mystified. To my surprise she admitted, “I’ve never seen anything like that!”

In those days there was no Internet to help us identify the plant. Even the seed catalog didn’t help. So we took our unidentified object to the 4-H fair where we asked one of the people judging vegetables. “It’s a summer squash,” a judge promptly told us when she looked at it. “What do you do with it?” my mom asked. “You slice it and fry it with some butter in a fry pan,” the judge answered. Based on the face my mom made in response, this was something new to her. I was learning my mom didn’t know everything about gardening and cooking.

Fried squash was not on the menu in our meat and potatoes home. To her credit, my mom sliced the summer squash and fried it up for us, but it was not a hit. Me and my siblings picked at it with frowns on our faces that showed our displeasure with this new cuisine. It may have been the only time she didn’t make us eat everything on our plate.

That summer I think I harvested more than vegetables from my little garden row. I learned not to be afraid to admit I don’t know something even if I think I’m the expert; to not be afraid to seek another opinion; and that it’s okay to step out of a familiar meat and potatoes world to try new things. Sometimes lessons in life come from the places we least expect them.

2 thoughts on “A Penny Seed Packet Yields Life Lessons

    1. I do eat it now sautéd with butter and a touch of seasoning. I still prefer fall squash which I did not like as a kid. One time at dinner I refused to eat the butternut squash on my plate. I ended up sitting at the table alone for almost two hours after dinner because my mom insisted I sit at the table until I ate the squash. She finally let me go without eating it. Kind of ironic that I like it now. Thanks for reading.

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