Mail Call: May/June 2012

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Oliver Grote loved growing and sharing cockscomb flowers.
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Oliver Grote loved growing and sharing cockscomb flowers.
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Oliver Grote loved growing and sharing cockscomb flowers.
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"We went and took care of dinner, Ma!"
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Can you name this issue's mystery tool?
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If you can name the May/June 2012 mystery tool, you could win a copy of Farm Collector Field Guide to Mystery Farm Tools.
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March/April 2012's mystery tool stumped our readers.

Remembering Oliver Grote

In our little town in the Texas Hill Country, we are quite accustomed to sharing with friends, family, neighbors — and even strangers. One of the locals whom people could always count on to share was Oliver Grote.

In 1978, Oliver opened Country Collectibles, an antique store located just north of the picturesque town square of Mason, Texas. During 30-plus years, Oliver acquired some very unique items: a dress worn by Barbara Mandrell; a 587-carat topaz, the state gem of Texas; and a 1928 Mack truck.

Many years later, Oliver developed a passion for a different kind of collectible: He began planting seeds in the landscape surrounding his two-story building.

Around 1996, Oliver planted the first seeds that produced cockscomb flowers of the deep red variety. He proudly displayed cuttings of his flowers inside Country Collectibles, and he was more than happy when visitors photographed them.

Over the years, Oliver’s supply of seeds for the red-headed cockscomb dwindled. So, he submitted a Friends & Neighbors letter to GRIT, which was printed in the November/December 2010 issue. He asked for 25 Celosia seeds — the big-headed cockscomb in red — in exchange for 50 seeds of the big-headed pale green variety. It didn’t take long for the first response to arrive, complete with a seed packet, a friendly note and photographs of breathtaking cockscombs. More than 60 replies were received, and Oliver exchanged letters and seeds from 21 states.

With Oliver’s health declining most of last year, he no longer operated the antique store, but he relentlessly visited as often as possible to nurture his treasure.

Oliver faithfully and joyfully reviewed the file containing every letter he had received in response to his seed request. He was sincerely touched by each correspondence. So, to everyone who sent him seeds, his family wants you to know that you brought delight to this 84-year-old gardener.

Oliver loved his family and led a life of caring for and helping others. He sowed into the lives of his wife, sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with extraordinary measure. While the physical evidence of planting seeds is seen in the cockscomb, the intangible seeds of integrity, generosity, encouragement and a sense of humor Oliver planted for his family are immeasurable.

Oliver passed away September 26, 2011, and there could not have been a more fitting tribute than the floral spray that adorned his casket — a vivid arrangement of red, pink, yellow and green cockscombs, all grown by his own hand and through the generous sharing of GRIT readers across the country.

Dorothy Grote and Courtney Grote Garrett
Mason, Texas
(Written at the request of Doris Grote, Oliver’s wife of 63 years, by daughter-in-law and granddaughter.)

What an honor to have played a role in uniting Oliver with other like-minded rural folks who get the same joys out of the simple pleasures as he did. Thanks for sharing, Doris. — Editors

Donkey or mule?

I was just directed to an article about donkeys and mules on your website (from, “Move Your … Mule!” in the January/February 2012 issue). I’d like to first congratulate you on publishing an entertaining and, more importantly, accurate piece on my favorite equids. I just wanted to note that the accompanying photo referencing three nosy mules is, in fact, three nosy donkeys — in a very frequently captured pose incredibly familiar to all of us who own donkeys. In fact, it’s hard to get a photo of them that’s not all nose! Thanks again. I’m glad I found your website. It’s interesting and informative, and I will visit often now.

Virginia Bowen
via email

Thank you for the kind words, Virginia! You are definitely right, and that stripe running down the right shoulder blade of one of the donkeys is a tell-tale sign. Thanks for pointing this out! — Editors

The importance of community

I enjoy your magazine. The article A Rural Community Comes Together for a Friend (Looking Back, January/February 2012) is one example of why I live where I do. I live in Oakesdale, Washington, population maybe 450, in the middle of wheat fields.

A local farmer was injured in a farming accident last year. I’m happy to say he survived, but there was no possible way he could have harvested his wheat. So, the area farmers gathered to harvest his crop for him. On a beautiful summer day, a total of 24 combines, 10 bankout wagons and 25 trucks were seen harvesting 650 acres.

Seeing so many people helping a friend and neighbor in need was amazing, as was the sight of all those combines and trucks.

Heather Stack
Oakesdale, Washington

Awesome to hear, Heather. Although our story occurred up near Ontario, Canada, that strong sense of community in rural areas transcends state and national borders, without a doubt. — Editors

Chicken for dinner

I grew up on a small family farm in Kansas with my mom, dad and three brothers. I was the only girl.

Sometimes my mom would think out loud. It might be a thought about family, relatives, or what to make for dinner.

On this particular day in 1943, she was thinking out loud: “I wish we had a chicken for dinner.” My brothers, who were 6 and 4 at the time, overheard her. Wanting to help, they went out to the chicken coop, where they saw two hens. “Those look like good ones. Let’s surprise Mom and give these chickens to her for dinner,” said one of the boys. They then proceeded to “euphemize” and present the fowl to our mother, pride swelling up in each of them.

“My lands,” Mom said. “What in the world did you two do?”

“We heard you wishing for a chicken for dinner, Mom,” the older of my two brothers said. “Here they are.”

Mom just looked at her two sons holding those chickens and said, “Well, thank you, boys. That was a very nice thing to do. Now we have a couple of chickens for dinner.”

My brothers had chosen a couple of the oldest hens in the coop. Mom did not let on, although it took her hours of cooking them to get them tender enough to eat.

Karen Ristuccia
Lancaster, California 

Mystery tool contest

Unfortunately, there is no winner for the mystery tool featured in the March/April 2012 issue. We received many responses, including answers of a wheel jig, a jig to hold a bottle, and a wagon wheel spoke shaper.

The correct answer is a bundling device, used to bundle grasses, grains and other field crops. According to a 1914 patent awarded to George Rheem of Helena, Montana, this item “is to produce novel means for clamping the stalks of vegetation near the butt ends thereof and also at the neck portions thereof just back of the heads, so that the stalks may be tied together in bundles by ribbon or ornamental fastenings, or in any other appropriate way.”

Now, take a look at the Image Gallery for this issue’s Name That Tool contest. The first person to email or write in with the correct answer will receive a copy of Farm Collector Field Guide to Mystery Farm Tools and a one-year subscription to Farm Collector, another great Ogden Publications title.

Share your thoughts

GRIT welcomes letters from our readers. If you would like to comment on an article or share your opinions, send a letter (with photographs, if available) to GRIT, Mail Call, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609, or email us at