I get a random email recently that goes in part like this, “Pete Mistr here. How are you and your family? Scott, Spud’s oldest son, found your article “Virginia & Slim NO Not THAT Kind (Part 1). What a great article. I loved it. Is there a Part 2 and 3 and 4?”
Well let me say right now that few things spur a writer on more than positive feedback, I’m back on track. Part 2 which I fully intended to write months ago no longer shoved aside. To back up a moment, the whole affair starts in late March when I get an out of the blue letter from my cousin-in-law with a note that says, “A blast from your past…! Love, Jane”. She has sent a Richmond Times-Dispatch From the Archives article about one of those larger than life people that pass through lives of lucky folks, farmer and friend Slim Mistr.
Jane has struck a chord. Great memories flood in, I am instantly ready to write a blog post. But it’s not yet strawberry season and so I decide to write Part 1 to fill the gap. We have a favorite pick your own strawberry patch close by and I want some fresh pictures of us picking for the post.
The Malco patch serves us well over the years. We start picking there from the very first year it opens when three youngest, Stephen, Andrew & Lewis are kids, one of many home school field trips. Mr Malco is impressed with our speed and quality control. He tries to hire us to pick vegetables for him. Flattered but unconvinced we pass on the offer.
I have acquired my skills under the excellent tutelage of Slim Mistr, husband to Virginia whom I co-sponsored the yearbook with at Varina High School. After Emily, our first baby, is born Donny & I move into Virginia & Slim’s little tenant house on their farm off of Darbytown Road. We are in an apartment complex and anxious to move, but monies are tight and so when Virginia offers the house we are delighted. Still it is above our budget and we reluctantly turn it down. They counter with a lower price which is closer to reality for us and we gratefully accept.
We have been to their comfortable farm house many times for yearbook work sessions and know the farm well. At this point Slim is growing strawberries as an experiment. Virginia takes what they pick to school and sells them out of the back of her car. Spring rolls around. I get a call from Slim. “Sandy are you ready to pick strawberries.” The house with the strawberry fields beside it is a brisk walk away down their private lane. I scoop up Emily and we’re off to adventure. Spending early year summers on my grandparents small chicken farm in Ashland, Virginia I learn how to pick many things from corn to butterbeans. But strawberries will be new to me.
Slim hands me a pail and explains that we are looking for the almost but not quite ripe berries. Ripe berries can be eaten along the way but put too many in your bucket and you end up with an overripe mess because berries continue to ripen after being picked. Small ones are sweeter but big ones fill your pail faster.
I put Emily down in one of the smooth dirt pathways that separates each row of strawberry plants and begin picking. She crawls along chasing bugs and butterflies. Once I look back to see Emily has found our stash of filled buckets, dumped them over and is happily eating strawberries. This daily routine continues throughout strawberry season. It is fun and we don’t mind helping Slim. He’s an easy going guy. Later in the summer he teaches Donny & me how to pick blackberries growing wild along abandoned fence rows on the farm. Better than stooping down he explains. He never minds us scouting out and bringing home a cedar tree for Christmas decorating.
Slim and Virginia have taken us under their wing in so many ways. They are there in a flash when Donald decides to make a quick entry into this world and we need help with Emily. Donny’s folks are close but not close enough. As it is we need a police escort to the hospital to make it in time.
When we announce to them that we are expecting Donald, child number two, they decide to add a room onto the two bedroom house so the children can each have their own space. I am quite willing to turn the never used covered front stoop into a mini bedroom but neither will hear of such nonsense. The rent goes up a bit but not by much. Donny is now part of the family lighting business, Advance Electric Supply Company, so we can manage the increase.
It is through Virginia that Emily becomes best friends with Ginny Nelson and her younger twin sisters, Betsy & Nancy. Their family has a working farm of their own nearby and are part of the huge Mistr clan being nieces to Slim. As is same age cousin Dorothy Ogburn who gets added to the friendship list when the girls begin summer gymnastics at the local elementary school.
Slim is always in charge of the antique farm machinery display at the state fair. We love all the fascinating old machinery he gathers from friend statewide to put on display and we never tire of seeing the baby ducklings and chicks that are also part of his purview. Slim rekindles my love of a state fair. It’s one of Mom’s many legacies to me. She and teen pals were annual fair patrons. I inherit this faithful love of a good fair.
When we live in Whitehall going to the Ohio State Fair with best friend Sandy Winfrey is an event we both look forward to each year. We plan our day. It is a long bus trip across town but once there we cover every base. We collect all the good free stuff from exhibits. We ride the midway rides. We eat sausage biscuits. We visit every building. The huge 4-H buildings are of particular interest because it is where the exhibiters live during fair days and the bathrooms are ever so much better than public ones.
One year, school rumor has it that the mystery girl for The Columbus Dispatch is upperclass senior and model worthy beauty Suzi Minor. The game is find the mystery girl and hand her a copy of the newspaper to win. Each day the paper reveals a snippet of her attire. She appears once daily on a random schedule at the newspaper booth. We stake out the spot until Suzi appears but we don’t finish the challenge. We’re there on one of the first days and the contest has barely begun. We don’t want to spoil the fun for others, plus we’re feeling kind of bad about maybe having an inside track. Turns out that rumors were right and we missed our chance for the big prize.
From yearbook deadlines to strawberry stained fingers and everything in between so much of the fabric of our early family years are woven with thread from Mistr cloth. Donny & I treasure each and every memory and know how very lucky we are.