Welcome to week 11 of 52 for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks writing challenge! This week’s thought is “flowers.” I thought hard about this one, and this prompt stumped me a little. Instead of writing about an ancestor with a floral name, I thought I would write about my maternal grandmother, Margaret (Heidt) Gubin, who had an extraordinary green thumb.
Grandma Gubin was the only child of Paul and Ruth (Coyne) Heidt. They lived on a farm near Cambria, Wisconsin. My mother said she once asked Ruth why she didn’t have any other children, to which she responded, “girl, I was nervous.” Ruth was thirty-five when she had Margaret. My mother seemed to remember hearing there may have been a miscarriage at some point, too.
Margaret lost her father to cancer when she was thirteen. One of her uncles became a father figure and helped raise her. In 1955 she married Donald Gubin and together they raised seven children. I had a long conversation with Mom about Grandma’s passion for gardening and how it began. Mom said, “she had a big family to feed, so I think it was out of necessity.”
Mom and Dad guesstimated that her garden was nearly seventy-five yards long by fifty yards wide—big, big garden! Mom said that Grandma grew everything in that garden and she “did everything big.” She remembers having to get up early summer mornings to pick the green beans before the hot heat of the day set in. Grandma planted three rows of beans that spanned the length of the garden. Mom said that she and her siblings would get a little rough with the vines when picking, which caused that plant to die. Grandma would have to remind them to be careful–maybe not knowing the lack of care was intentional. After that, they worked hard to wash and cut the beans in order to be canned or frozen.
There was always work to be done in the gardens. “Go weed and thin the carrots,” she would say. “The tomatoes need to be dusted for bugs!” The garden provided for the family, so the family tended the garden. The garden also gave Grandma, Mom, and my aunts and uncles an opportunity to enter competitions. Mom said she would enter canned and baked foods at the fairs. One of my uncles took produce to the fairs. Grandma entered food review competitions where a table setting and prepared meal was judged.
Once the kids were grown and began to move out of the house, Grandma began to shift her gardening from vegetables to flowers. Mom said she loved to try new plants and planted whatever she could grow. When she no longer wanted her grapes, she replaced the grapes with roses. Once the need for rows and rows of beans was no longer needed, beans, carrots, tomatoes, or radishes were replaced with mums and other colorful flowers. Mom remembers the long rows of every color of mum in the garden.
Her love for gardening didn’t stop in the garden. She was a huge proponent of 4H. She was one of the leaders of their local group in the areas of food, crops, and animals. She taught food preservation skills at the local tech college teaching people about dehydration methods. She sold dehydrators as a source of income, too. Grandma also published a cookbook with all sorts of recipes using apples–which she had plenty of from her orchard.
Grandma was diagnosed with late-stage cancer in 2004. She passed away on April 15, 2005, at her home in Rolling Prairie, Wisconsin. I have only a few memories of her. I will always remember the amazing foods she made and a couple of candy parties she hosted for her grandkids. Of course, the big garden and orchard are unforgettable. Her legacy of being a gardener lives on through a family pepper she saved seeds from and gave to the Jung Seed Company. The pepper variety is available in its catalog as Margaret’s Pepper.
Mom said that Grandma loved to try new things. If there was something that caught her interest, she went for it. If there was a different way to prepare or preserve food, she tried it. If there was a flower or plant that she liked or thought she could grow, she grew it. She was a woman with many gifts.