ROBERT ST. JOHN: The garden, speeches and Big Boy

By Robert St. John

When my wife meets people at one of my book signings or speeches, they say things such as, “Your husband is so funny, I’ll bet he keeps the whole family in stiches.”
To which she replies, “Yeah, he’s a real hoot,” swallowing her sarcasm.
My wife is my toughest audience, she’s seen it, heard it, and was usually there when the event I’m writing, or speaking, about occurred. Typically, she’s not amused.
While going over my speaking-engagement schedule a few weeks ago, we came across the event, “Master Gardener’s Convention.”
“What are you doing at a Master Gardeners Convention?” she asked.
“I’m speaking.”
“I know that, but what are you speaking about?”
“I don’t know, gardening I guess.”
About 30 minutes later I was finally able to get her to stop laughing long enough to tell her, “I speak to a lot of groups where I don’t know what I’m talking about. Wait. That came out wrong. I meant I spoke to the Library Association and can’t tell you anything about the Dewey Decimal System.”
As I reeled off even more groups I had spoken to over the years, she wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “Yes, but I’ll bet these guys want you to speak about gardening. You don’t know anything about gardening. You have actually made a pretty good living off speaking and writing about your misadventures in gardening. All you do is tell stories about growing up in the South and raising kids.”
My first thought was: There are a whole lot of shoes and handbags in that closet for someone who makes just a ‘pretty good living.’ My second thought was: She’s right (again), dang it. I don’t know squat about gardening.
I am dedicated to the concept of gardening and growing food for the restaurants. But I display my dedication by hiring someone who actually knows what he is doing. Micah Pogue is that man. For my contribution, I brought a Shoney’s Big Boy to the garden to serve as our scarecrow.

Time for the talk
The night of the speech, as I was walking out the door, my wife asked, “Where are you going?”
“To give that speech to the Master Gardener’s Association.”
I could still hear her laughing as I closed the door to my truck. Strange mocking, I thought, coming from someone whose only gardening occurs just before a party when she buys all new plants for the pots containing the dead plants that were purchased before the previous party.
As I reached the venue and was greeted by the event organizer, I asked, half jokingly, “Y’all don’t really want me to talk about gardening do you?”
“Absolutely,” she said. “We want to hear all about your restaurant’s garden, and the bees, and the pigs; we think it’s just great what you are doing.”
As I pushed the food around on my plate during the emcee’s opening remarks, I tried to think back to my columns about gardening. I knew I had always made sure to give credit where credit was due – the aforementioned Mr. Pogue who works the garden, Roy Clingon who handles the bees, Bruce Colquitt who castrated the pigs. I would never take credit for something I knew nothing about.
After I was introduced, I apologized to the crowd, gave them three minutes of gardening advice (which is exactly two minutes more than I know), and then told a bunch of humorous stories about growing up in the South and raising kids.
At the speech’s conclusion, I received the largest standing ovation I have ever received, which led me to believe that I am better off being clueless. No problem there.
For those interested in an update from Bonhomie Gardens: We have 370 tomato plants in the ground. The Big Boy is also keeping watch over sweet corn, watermelons, squash, cucumbers, zucchini, bell peppers, pink-eye purple-hull peas, baby carrots, okra and Aristotle peppers. Micah says we’ll be harvesting vegetables for the restaurants through September. He is also a little worried that I’m going to climb inside the Big Boy one day and scare him while he’s weeding or picking.
In the end, I have learned that a Shoney’s Big Boy doesn’t keep crows away, but it scares the hell out of the deer, while keeping the gardener on his toes. Ultimately, I am grateful to the Master Gardener’s Association for getting my wife to finally laugh about – if not at – one of my speeches.

Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.