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My Dear Aunt contracted polio when she was 11. She ran home from school one day, then never ran again. Unmarried until she was in her thirties and with no children of her own, she was a constant presence in the lives of her nieces and nephews.

Our "Dear Aunt" with my sister (2years) and me (6 months)

Our “Dear Aunt” with my sister (2 years) and me (6 months)

She took us to church, community events, swimming at the lake, and to the farm, where she lived with our grandparents.  She was enormous fun, but strict. She walked with a cane and said she couldn’t chase us, so she expected us to listen.

Whether she had one of us with her or five or six, we cousins knew that our time with her would include playing outside, board and card games, music and stories. We played rainy day games like Itty Bitty Bye… About So High, Button Button – Who’s Got the Button, and another game we called Comesy Come:

“Comesy Come.” “What do you come by?” “I come by silver.” “Is it the little knob on the radio over there?” “No. Guess again.”

She pounded out songs on the piano as we all marched around belting, “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” and other merry tunes. When the time came for chores – and there were always chores – she made the job a game, singing the role of Mary Poppins as we filled the woodbox and swept and dusted.

It seems natural that I remember her as I consider the task before me. My garden tools, some still covered with dried mud from their last wet day in the garden, need to be cleaned and put away. This important maintenance would have been enjoyable on a warm fall day. Now it’s cold, really cold, and this will be a messy inside job. Where’s the element of fun in that?


I’ve always had some basic principles concerning my tools: Buy the best tools I can afford. Use the correct tool for the job. Keep tools reasonably clean and in good repair. All tools belong inside at night and never stay outside in the rain.


A wire brush will remove the dirt from the metal surfaces, and I’ll use steel wool to scour away any rust. I’ll sharpen tools with cutting edges, including hoes and shovels, and lubricate the moving parts of pruners and loppers. Boiled linseed oil applied to the metal parts will help to prevent rust. Wooden handles will be wiped well, and I’ll smooth rough areas with sandpaper before rubbing them with boiled linseed oil.


A bit of mulch on the tine of my favorite fork

These tools are my companions during long days in the gardens. The pleasure of giving them the good care they deserve is the only spoonful of sugar I need to get the job done. Next fall, however, I resolve to finish cleaning my tools before I turn off the water and put the hose away. Won’t that be sweet!