Jim’s gem offers encouraging words for anyone

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 23, 2009

In a week set aside to give thanks for our many blessings, including food, let’s talk about Jim Wilson.

There are two topics (at least) on which he is an absolute expert.

One is hard times.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Wilson, who grew up in Vicksburg during the Great Depression, wrote a series of reminiscences for the Post a year ago. Printed on this page, his stories of how he and his young siblings and friends worked to help sustain their families, were a big hit with readers. Their labors were essential. Hunger wasn’t an abstraction for rural folks who didn’t use their wits.

His other expertise is in gardening.

After World War II, Wilson settled in Columbia, Mo., and lives there still. Frequently on TV, including serving as a co-host of the PBS “Victory Garden” series, Wilson is also the author of a dozen or more books on how to transform water, dirt and seeds into bounty — floral and edible.

Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail.

Given his areas of expertise, it’s really no surprise that late last year when the American economy tanked, Wilson, though 85, headed for the keyboard and turned out another book, “Homegrown Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs: A Bountiful, Healthful Garden for Lean Times.”

Given that the 1930s eventually gave way to better times, Wilson feels confident that jobs and prosperity will return. He mentions this in his introduction:

“Even though I am bearded and wear socks with my sandals,” Wilson writes, “I would make a poor prophet. Nevertheless, I see signs and portents that the lavish lifestyles and unrestrained spending that many once enjoyed are probably a thing of the past. Even when we get to the other side of this current economic crisis, most of us will think twice before buying goods and services we want, but don’t really need.”

He may be right. Remember that a main distinction between “boomers” and their parents is that the parents were fiscal fuddy-duddies. They didn’t buy a new car as soon as they thought they could afford another note. They beat their old TVs, if necessary, to coax a picture, even if fuzzy. They made stuff last.

If Wilson is right — and that the reason they did is that they experienced shortages during the depression and the war — then maybe today’s folks will be more austere, at least until we collectively forget the value of thrift again.

If that happen’s Wilson’s new book, published by Creative Homeowner, will be invaluable both to beginning gardeners and those who could use a bit of encouragement and advice.

The book will be available next week. I was privileged to get an advance copy. Usually, it’s the photographs that “sell” such works and the images in Wilson’s book by photographer Walter Chandoha are inspirational. But Wilson’s words just can’t be beat. His prose is tight and direct. He seems to anticipate steps a person might be prone to skip or forget and gently urges both diligence and patience in encouraging people to grow at least some of their own food and seasonings.

Of course, the book is for a national audience. That means Wilson must speak to different soil and climate conditions. Even earnest gardeners here already know all they expect ever to know (nothing) about growing chayote, escarole, swiss chard, kiwi and currants. But Wilson writes with clarity on the glories of more familiar vegetables and fruits, too.

It’s a 190-page “how-to” encyclopedia that’s easy to read and energizing, too.

“Homegrown Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs: A Bountiful, Healthful Garden for Lean Times” is a gem. It’s Jim’s gem. And he knows what he’s talking about.