Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Cucumber Madonna

The Cucumber Madonna, 2011

Oh, no. I seem to be nigh onto becoming the Guy Friddell of my generation.

For those of you who read What I Saw from afar, Guy Friddell was a newspaper reporter who covered Virginia and Virginia politics for decades. He was a confidant of governors and wrote several insightful books about Virginia and its politics, history and culture. In his latter working years he wrote a column for Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot that was a favorite among older readers for its evocation of simple pleasures and its annual celebration of tomatoes from Hanover County.

(Hanover tomatoes are a delicacy that has to be tasted to be appreciated. There’s no need trying to tell you why you should care about these giant red explosions of summer sweetness if you haven’t had one.)

I didn’t know Mr. Friddell well, but wish I had gotten the chance to spend more time with him when we crossed paths briefly at the Richmond newspapers. One gets the impression that he was one part cross courtly Southern gentleman, one part insightful political analyst and one part Walter Mitty. Picture him as a rumpled man whose socks didn’t always match and whose jacket and pants were as often as not from different suits. He drove a beat up old station wagon around town. But underneath the frumpy exterior was a guy who also knew all the right back stories and where all the political bodies were buried.

I've been thinking of Friddell lately because over the last few days I’ve been obsessed with our vegetable garden. Facebook friends have been following my travails as I try to protect the cucumber and squash crops from ravenous box turtles. Several times a day I go out into the garden to relocate one or more husky turtles to other leafy precincts in the neighborhood hoping that they’ll find someone else’s yard to dine in. (This reminds me of the famous streetwalking artist Wally Torta, who it’s said used to capture rats in Havahart traps in the basement of his apartment house so that he could release them in ritzier neighborhoods.)

The turtles have been entertaining enough in their own way, and as much as they are decimating the crops, I don’t want to do them any harm. They have, however, become so plentiful that I’ve taken to marking their shells with some of my wife’s old fingernail polish as a way of inventorying the extent of their local tribe.

Before he retired completely from newspapering, with his wife having passed away before him, Guy Friddell wrote a lot about his garden and his walks with his dog. I’m nowhere near retirement. But I do have a faithful terrier that accompanies me into the garden in the hope of finding a turtle or two to roll over.

Yesterday while we were picking cucumbers and squash I found the commingled cucumbers shown above. Being the hack art history fan I am, I immediately saw this as nature’s interpretation of the ages-old theme of the Madonna and child.

I realize this little bit of odd nature isn’t exactly Lourdes. No one is lined up in the front yard to see this scene. The cucumbers weep not. And to be honest I haven’t come up with a way to photograph them than quite captures the novelty I thought I might find in them. But I’ll keep looking for revelations in the vegetable garden and let you know if I find anything.


  1. I miss Guy Fridell and his columns. Does this mean you'll write about collards at least twice a year?
    I've got a big, beautiful Brandywine on my kitchen counter. Do I bastardize it by making a tomato pie, or keep it pure and just make one fat sandwich? I think that Mr. Fridell would have understood such a dilemma, although my husband doesn't.

  2. That's a riot--hey, if Jesus could be in a potato chip, why the hell not the Madonna in a member of the gourd family? I think you should get it insured.

  3. At least you're not becoming Larry Maddry. He once wrote that people from Chesapeake Beach wore their bathing suits 10 months out of the year. I guess he knew what he was talking about since he was one of us.

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  7. Anonymous - If you'd like to contact me at chris@bonneyresearch.com I can tell you a little more about Guy Friddell's whereabouts.

  8. Marking the turtles with nail polish is a riot -- and definitely within the Guy zone!