For Everything There Is a Season
The life of Marion Jenkins is ordered, literally, by the changing seasons, like when most locals rotated work between oystering during the winter and farming in the remaining months. Marion still farms, and from the moment the seeds are covered up in March with dark Lowcountry loam, she assumes her volunteer post: hoeing, cutting, pulling, bending, picking, and toting. She does whatever is necessary to bring sweet corn, watermelon, squash, okra, peas and beans to maturity and to get this produce into the hands of those in need.
Marion works as a cook's assistant at Good Hope Hunting Club in Ridgeland where, for the past 10 years, she has kept a November to March work schedule. By March, the community field where she volunteers her gardening labor, has been tractor plowed and planted. She readies herself now for the coming months of preparation and harvest. Since Marion knows most people these days won't venture near a field, not even to pick their own food, she fills small orders for friends. Up before sunrise, she is often finished in the field before her gardening partner, Cookie, arrives.
"I like the outdoors; I like to see things grow. If there's something you like to do, you'll do it the rest of your life," says Marion, who worked as a child on a family farm with seven siblings. They smoked pork for the winter, stored corn to grind into grits and meal, banked sweet potatoes and prepared rice, using a pestle and mortar.
"Get up in the morning, go in the field, go get wood to make a fire"-these were duties that needed to be done in order to survive on the farm, she says. "You feel good out there, if you just walk 'cross the field, just to get up and look at the garden." But now she adds, people simply say they'll get it from the store.
Butterbeans are her favorite crop to eat but her most difficult to harvest, because the bush does not grow as tall as okra plants grow, for instance. At 83 years, she must devise her own harvesting system. She pulls up the entire bean bush from the ground, packs the plants in her car trunk and takes them home where she sits and pulls the bean pods from the plant. "Do the best with what you got," she says, smiling.
Born in 1926, "down those woods to the riverfront," in an area called Hazel, she grew up without her father. The family stuck together, though, including nieces and nephews who pitched in and got the work done. After her two brothers grew up and left the household, she plowed the family garden for two years with an ox. "You had to survive during that time," she says.
Those hard times have passed for Marion, like a storm blown out to sea. These days, you might find her traveling anywhere between California and Nova Scotia on an excursion, or attending a family reunion, but she says she has never been a place she'd rather live than where she lives now.
Cracking oysters made it possible for Marion's family to "save that little bit of money" and buy land in order to form the present-day family compound in Ridgeland where she lives comfortably and receives frequent visits from family members.
Many seasons have come and gone in the life of Marion Jenkins and she is grateful each day for another chance to bring forth fruit.