I’m getting pretty close to “old as dirt” now, and I’m not supposed to learn new things or so they say, but there are things I hear that I surely want to pass on, such as the real age of the Lincoln geraniums on my deck, which, while beautiful, are quite common.
They came by way of two old retired nurses, who had worked together at the air force hospital in Soap Lake in 1942. Soap Lake is and was known for its curative powers. Old Marie Tyson later nursed at the old hospital down at the bottom of the town of Republic. I say “old” because the driving examiner told her that she would have to take the “driving test” over again because she was getting too old to drive and that she would have to wait for the state examiner to come to town before she could take the exam. At 86 years old, Marie had retired from active nursing, but was being paid by the state to make sure all these old people got their pills and made their appointments, so when the driving examiner stepped into the passenger seat of Marie’s car, she asked him, “Where to?” and he replied, “Whatever road would best show off your driving skills.” They hit the first hump going down the steep courthouse hill at 30 MPH and the car “kinda” leaped sideways and when it landed, the Lieutenant careened off the passenger door. While the hill was rough and dirt, the car was upright at the bottom of the hill, and the lieutenant gave Marie her license, enabling her to continue hauling the old people around.
Take old Faye Davis for example, a retired wood cutter; He had broken his leg and then ruined the cast, trying to cut and haul firewood from the woods, when he had no choice but to get wood. It was a hard country and hard Winter and Faye like many others did not like asking for help. Marie scolded old Faye for making her come back for him twice and Faye would only look at Marie with downcast eyes because she knew he couldn’t drive.
It was in 1985 I believe when Marie’s old friend and nurse showed up with the trunk of her car filled with blazing red, Lincoln geraniums all the way from an old homestead in Lincoln, Montana and not unlike the stories of “homestead climbing roses” came from early pioneer stock adapted by hardy individuals to harsh and unforgiving conditions.
A lot of rhubarb came to be developed that way and you can still see these immigrant plants growing in abandoned homesteads, such as the Dragnich’s where I found two acres of rhubarb which I promptly filled my pack with and proceeded to can five or six quarts which was next to inedible because the plants were just too darn old.
The geraniums from Lincoln, Montana were beautiful. Years later, Marie offered me a piece of her geraniums to start in a pot of my own. In 2018, I have four or five survivors of that first plant on the front deck right now. They help me remember Marie and her cats. She did tell me about her grade school in Austria where the girls tricked an older boy-bully to lick the doorknob of the cathedral with his tongue in below freezing weather.