Spring Without Burpee Seeds
Every spring I take stock.
I look around my village to see what we might have lost since this time last year. The feed store still sells baby chicks. Someone plowed the fields at the north end, and buds are swelling on the apple trees.
At the Frontier Mart we still sell asparagus gathered from along the irrigation ditch, and children still buy jacks, marbles, jump ropes and kites, but near the door between the Popsicle freezer and the 50-pound dog food, the garden seeds are gone.
Last year I received a letter from Mr. Burpee saying we hadn’t sold enough seeds to warrant sending more. I miss getting the big parcel where tab A slid into slot B and all that cardboard folded magically into a panoply of snapdragons and four-o-clocks, zucchini, carrots and lima beans.
No sooner would I assemble the display and arrange the seeds than men in coveralls would come to read the seed packets, to contemplate the sunlight, soil and water requirements, and to count the days until maturity. They fingered the envelopes like kids in the candy aisle, then carried their selections away like little packets of promise.
Three of my seed customers were Ramón and Julio Tenorio and Walter Atkerson. Maybe a storekeeper shouldn’t play favorites, but in 18 years of business, Ramón, Julio and Walter are at the top of my list.
The three of them grew corn and cabbage and they raised pigs. Ramón and Julio were brothers from one of Corrales’s old families. On spring mornings Julio and his horse, Smokey, plowed the field at the corner of Tenorio and Corrales Roads.
Walter was a true cowboy who had come down from Colorado (pronounced Colo-ray-do) in the 1940s. He’s the only 82 year-old I’ve known who rode his horse every day.
Ramón and Walter were best friends who traveled together. When Walter’s car wouldn’t start, they rode to my store on a tractor with Ramón in the driver’s seat and Walter standing alongside. They bought Jimmy Dean sausage, single-edge razor blades, and shaving cream in a cup with a bristle brush. Heading home, the old tractor crept along the two-lane road at fifteen miles per hour, and cars moved into the left lane to pass. Traffic was light then, tractors commonplace.
On Friday nights when I saw Ramón and Walter’s tractor parked at the Territorial House, I’d stop and find them in the bar. Ramón talked about family and farming. Walter told about his days as a cowboy on the Black Ranch. After a while I’d say, “I have to go. You guys behave.”
Ramón would look offended. “I always behave,” he’d say. “I work hard and go to church every day.”
Walter rolled his eyes and mumbled something about blowing smoke.
Julio, Ramón, and Walter haven’t been in the store for a long time now. We didn’t mark their last visit or say goodbye. One day we just realized they hadn’t come in.
I’m told Julio and Ramón died more than a year ago, and Walter’s gone now, too. I think of them whenever I think of spring and farming and Burpee seeds. It makes me look around to see what’s missing. Then I memorize what we have left in case it comes up missing next year. What I’m trying to say is, if I’d known it was my last Burpee seed display, I would have paid more attention.
Editor’s note: This column was first published in Corrales Comment 26 years ago, but readers said it was one of their favorites. Jean Waszak agreed to have it published again in this special Garden and Landscape issue. Other columns of hers may re-appear from time to time.