Do you recall a man who waxed wealthy writing historical novels? Didn’t he give you a history not only of the Snopes family, but also that of the inhabitants of their Chesapeake farm from the unicellular, to the bivalves and trilobites, right up to the forsythia?

There is nothing new or unique about this way of storytelling. Your average Maine man might spend half an hour dragging out in painful detail how he bagged a tick-covered deer last season, starting with his first cup of coffee that morning until he fried it up in a pan the following winter.

Ask a Maine farmer how he plans to operate his roadside rhubarb stand this spring with the coronavirus looming over his shoulder, and he has been conditioned to reply: “Rhubarb, you say?” When comfortably launched into familiar waters, he can ramble on for an hour:

Jim Raye had 20 plants down in the field 50 years ago when I bought the place from his wife’s estate. Myrtle was a third cousin to my mother, and she wanted someone in the family to have it as soon as she died. Billy Graham inherited the proceeds, and every time I made a mortgage payment, I figured I was simply greasing Myrtle’s glide into glory.

Every year I put in more and more rhubarb – like buying a new shirt before the old one is worn out. No reason for it, so don’t ask. Year after year friends like Everett Baum and Fred Carey carted off 50 or 100 pounds at a lick. I didn’t want anything, but it finally got so that they wouldn’t take any more unless they gave me a little something.

That’s what launched me in rhubarb, and you’d probably hear some interesting stories if you talked to other people who gave away something for free until they discovered that plenty of folks were willing to pay.

Yes. This coronavirus thing you asked about will change the way we operate this year. I used to put a chrome-plated table I got at the dump out by the road and stack the rhubarb on that. But I don’t want to spread the bug thing, so I can’t stack it anymore. The stand is only 100 feet or so from my front windows and I have learned from watching hundreds of people from behind the curtains that there is not a living human being who is capable of picking up the best bunch of freshly picked rhubarb on top of the pile.

Instead, there is an innate human need to rummage through a mountain of produce and, only after putting a bunch in each hand and hefting them – one against the other –do they put them both down and take a different bunch that was on top in the first place. Some can even be tricked into taking the day-old flaccid bunch. They figure that I’d put the oldest on top just to get rid of it, but I’ve got them fooled there. I put it on the bottom and they burrow down and take what they think must be the freshest one.

Anyone who has marketed and eaten rhubarb since the day Jimmy Carter sold his peanut farm so he could be an honest president could tell you that there is no more difference between two bunches of rhubarb than there is in any two small babies chosen at random on any friend’s kitchen floor.

And, by the way, you and I know that there is nothing wrong with flaccid rhubarb that has basked in the August heat for a day. That’s what my wife, Marsha, The Almost Perfect Woman, uses in the pies she makes for me.

When I cut the leaves off down in the garden, I leave an inch of leaf on the top of the stalk. That gives the customer an extra inch or so of usable stalk when they get it home. Funny thing about that, though. A stalk with just a wisp of leaf on it will get flaccid much quicker than a stalk that doesn’t.

After consulting with MOFGA experts, I’ve decided to put out only one bunch at a time. It will hopefully eliminate handling by several parties. Anyone who wants more can phone or push the bell button and I’ll go into “hungry pit bull mode,” which means I’ll quickly toss another bunch out onto the lawn and jump back.

We’ll be going with correct change only this season. I’m thinking of a 3-foot-high wooden box (with a hole on the side to keep out rain) that permits the insertion of bills without having to touch anything. A note will advise friends who don’t have the cash to bring it next time. Here in St. George, rhubarb is right up there with beer and potato chips when it comes to life’s essentials, and no one should have to go without.

Around the first of June, you have to soak your rhubarb every night if you want a strong second crop.

Treat it right, and you’ll have rhubarb right up to the first fall day you get that little bit of frost.

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:

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