Potted Lemon Tree Thrived on Family Farm

An Arizona woman recalls growing up in Chicago, and how wonderful her grandfather's potted lemon tree smelled on their small family farm

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I grew up on the south side of Chicago. When I was a little girl, we still had a neighbor who walked her cow down the road past our house to take it to a pasture on the edge of town. The lady next door kept chickens. Our family farm consisted of a fairly large backyard. My grandfather loved phlox. He had clumps of every different kind. People came from all over to see them. Grandpa also had a potted lemon tree, perhaps the only one in Chicago. It was in a huge tub. Every spring he dug a hole in the center of our pocket-sized front lawn and buried the pot. In the fall, he dug it up again. All my uncles had to help. Winters the lemon tree was kept in front of a window in the basement. It smelled lovely. The lemons were the giant kind. We never had any. Grandpa gave them to people like his boss, the preacher and very good friends.

World War II came along when I was in eighth grade. Victory garden plots were plowed up and loaned to anyone who would tend them. Ours was on 115th and Halsted Street, still a rural area then. My father went into the Navy. Grandpa got our garden going. The car was put up on blocks-no tires or gasoline-so we had to walk back and forth. Most evenings found us watering or pulling weeds until dark. Grandma and Mom canned everything they could. I still keep a garden today, because I love fresh tomatoes and corn.

As a teen, I loved tomatoes too. I would line up five or six on the windowsill and lay in the hammock with a book, reading and eating tomatoes. One year my folks sent me to a tomato farm. I helped with the harvest. Most of the young men were off at war so I was needed. They painted my fingernails with a red color. That was the color of the tomatoes to be picked. I could pick the very ripe ones, but they were for me to eat, not for sale. The lighter and green tomatoes were left for future harvesting.

Other summers I was sent to an uncle's farm in Michigan. We picked currants and black raspberries. I preferred the currants because there were bees in the raspberries. I didn't make much just enough for my room and board and for roller skating in town on Saturday night. My uncle spoke German, so he was given some German prisoners .of war to help with the harvest. They were nice lads and seemed happy to be out of the war.

Mom always wanted me to marry one of the boys from a neighboring town. Their folks were in our church and were wealthy onion farmers. I said I wanted to marry a professional man, so I saved my money and went to the university. There I met my husband, who was studying to be an electronics engineer. We are retired now and we have a pecan orchard in Arizona. I guess it was destiny; I married a farmer after all.

Eleanor Lindemulder Mattausch
Benson, Arizona

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.