Weekly Feature

2018-06-21 / Editorial

Summer yard chores have their ups and downs

Managing Editor

I did not get very far when I set out to mow my lawn last week. My faithful push mower fired right up, but it was the rusty deck that failed me.

Last year, I prolonged its life by using Gorilla Tape to patch up the holes in the deck. But about halfway through last week’s mission, one of the wheels fell off, taking part of the housing with it. Done.

Now the issue is whether or not to plant a small vegetable garden. I know we are probably three weeks late in doing so, but the latent plot always reminds me of two of the best-known experts on the topic, the late George “Doc” Abraham and his wife, Katy. Both passed away in 2005.

The couple was a mainstay on radio and TV in Rochester from 1952 to 2002. They were staples of the time, he outfitted in a flannel shirt and overalls while she waited quietly and politely in the background for her time to speak.

Doc and Katy studied horticulture and journalism at Cornell University at a time when these majors were about as trendy as women’s two-piece bathing suits. They married in 1942 when Doc was home on a 36-hour leave from the Army. He served in North Africa; she worked at a munitions plant in Ithaca.

After the war, they started a humble greenhouse business and with it, a syndicated newspaper column. Editors liked its blend of easy-to-understand yet valuable information and a predictable hometown texture.

One of the first newspapers to sign up for “The Green Thumb,” as the column was dubbed, was the old Buffalo Courier Express. It turns out a small turf war developed when the column was also published by the weekly Amherst Bee.

“In those days, we didn’t pay attention to papers in terms of circulation. We didn’t know any better,” Doc recalled. Many years later, Doc sat down at his typewriter and wrote an informal letter to Bee Publisher George J. Measer. He began by answering a question Measer had about the best route to follow in trimming lilac bushes.

“Lilacs are strange,” Doc mused. “We’ve seen some 100 years old on abandoned farmlands and they bloom every year!” You won’t find an answer like that on the internet.

We could overlook Doc’s typos but not his lack of familiarization with deadlines. When his weekly column did not arrive by conventional mail back in the late 1980s, it was my job to call him and verify one was on the way. The telephone rang long enough to signal that the Abrahams’ house might not have an answering machine.

When I did speak to Doc, he was as friendly as always. Yet despite our need for a column to fill the designated space, he was probably dealing with more pressing issues in the greenhouse that was his cathedral.

Yes, he had a column, but no, he did not have a fax machine to send it to me as quickly as I needed it.

“I guess I could go down to the drugstore and see if they have a fax machine,” he said solemnly. I told him that would not be necessary.

I will admit that we pulled one of Doc and Katy’s columns from the same time the previous year. How much does information change when it comes to variegated violets anyway? (David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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