One of my grandmothers died young. The other wasn’t a nice lady. Miss Pitts was the closest thing I had.
Lois Pitts was my friend’s grandmother. It was technically Mrs. Pitts but everyone called her Miss. I met her when I was 16 and I fell in love.
She was the Southern grandmother. Soft spoken, put together, attentive, thoughtful. She always had these banana-and-peanut-butter-between-two-graham-cracker things in the freezer for us.
Mr. Pitts had died years before I showed up. He had worked 40 years at the paper mill in Panama City and kept hogs in their yard as a side job. I had never heard of such and was fascinated. Keeping hogs in the yard. I wish I could have met him.
They also had a small farm on their family homestead in a nearby community called Frink, 40 acres I think. Mr. Pitts worked that as well. When anyone in the family spoke of him, they said he was a nice guy but a workaholic.
I have many pungent memories of Miss Pitts’s place. In fact, I think I enjoyed it more than my friend, her grandson. Her house was a cottage really, built stick by stick by Mr. Pitts and Miss Pitts’s father, likely of lumber from the Sherman mill in Millville. The inside was tongue-and-groove pine paneling, honeyed through the decades.
The house sat under colossal oak and cedar trees, and maybe 30 feet from the edge of Cook’s Bayou. Azalea mounds everywhere. Muscadine arbor out back. I remember there were the biggest fig trees I’d ever seen growing to one side of the house all the way to the salt water. Miss Pitts would make preserves of them.
And she always grew a little patch of tomatoes and peppers just off her screened-in back porch, by the chain link fence.
She somehow got them to grow in her beach sand soil, still not sure how. Every Spring and Summer, though, when we would eat at her house, she had a plate of sliced tomatoes and mild banana peppers to munch.
Why did she grow those? She was past the days of needing to raise food for survival. Mr. Pitts was gone; she spent most of her time alone. It’s hot in North Florida in Summer and the sand gnats are pestilential. They sold tomatoes and peppers at the same store where she bought all her other groceries.
Did it remind her of Mr. Pitts, their days of sowing and harvesting and raising kids together in Frink? Was it habit, part of what you did every March? Did she simply want tomatoes that tasted better than the swampy ones from Winn Dixie? Or do growers just have to grow?
All of that, I suppose. Now that I am a gardener, I think it’s all of that.
I remember Miss Pitts’s pot roasts and her cat head biscuits and the peanut butter things, but those tomatoes and peppers stay with me. To this day, I grow them in my garden.
Which is the point I guess.