Let 'the People' be heard on behalf of the turnip

Speaking of turnips, as we shall do shortly, have you noticed what happened to "the People"? Time was that "We, the People," were the foundation of our constitutional republic, the custodian of our freedom, and the safeguard of our liberties. The People spoke as with the voice of God, and you could depend on what the People said.

Then came the era of the public opinion poll, and we didn't hear the People speak, but listened only to what the pollster was hired to say.

Now we are in the wonder age when there is no poll and the People say nothing and everything is said for them. Let me elucidate: Have you ever been polled? Neither have I.

Now turnips. Sumner Carlson has the best and only garden on Garrison Island, off Friendship, Maine. By special contract arrangements he grows me a "rooty-bagger" Swede turnip each summer and delivers it after the first sharp frost of fall, in time for Thanksgiving.

A purple-top turnip should not be plucked, threshed, winnowed, and dressed for the table until there has been a killing frost, as that's what brings the flavor to perfection. So when it cools we know Sumner and Mary will come to the mainland for the winter and bring us our turnip.

Here in our happy home for aging has-beens, we take our meals in a dining room for residents, and we do not get turnips because, we are told, "people don't like them." I supposed, reasonably, that folks had been asked, a majority had said no, and that thus the People had spoken. This even nullified the postprandial lady in the elevator who said, "Wouldn't it be great to have a slap of turnip now and then instead of always those awful green beans?"

So we don't see turnip at all, not even in the six flavors of asparagus soup or the occasional, and appreciated, corned beef hash. When Sumner brings his turnip, we have it in our apartment when we don't join the other folks at supper. However, this time we decided, generously, to share.

I spoke to the cook to say, "See this beautiful turnip my friend has fetched! Why don't you fix it boiled and mashed with a bit of sugar and butter, and we'll share our bounty with hoi polloi?" To this I got the reply: "I'd have to ask first if the people like it."

This was last fall and as I pause here to state a fact, the Ides of March approach apace. We have heard nothing from Cook, we know the People were not surveyed, no turnip has appeared at commons, and instead of the People I hear a still, small voice that tells me Cook dislikes to peel turnips. "They" don't like turnips, a consensus of one.

An uncle was a shipper and broker of farm produce at Kensington, Prince Edward Island, and every fall he had a big turnip day. The island grows quantities of good-quality turnips. Being nearby, we saw his small advertisement in the paper and drove up to Kensington to see what 50 carloads of turnips look like in one day.

As we approached, we began overtaking small trucks and horse-drawn wagons piled high. Farmers were responding to his notice, "Tuesday, Turnips, Millman, Kensington."

By the time we got to the railroad siding, the turnip caravan was tailgate to tailgate. The Canadian National Railways had set off a train of clean lading freight boxcars and, while his crew handled turnips, Uncle Brad sat at a desk all day and wrote checks for the farmers. The cars of island turnips would be in Montreal next morning and the turnips would be transshipped by water to Cuba. The Cubans liked turnips and were in a position to have them in soups and everything no matter what. This, naturally, was appreciated by my Uncle Brad and the farmers of P.E.I.

There is one other thing about turnips that is good to know.

Many fine young folks from Prince Edward Island came to the Boston States. If they didn't find work, they'd keep right on going down into Massachusetts. So, in time, a lot of residents there would pack up every so often and take the Downeaster train from North Station and go home to visit the folks. An interesting custom developed. All these people would get or have a trunk, and would go to rummage sales and going-out-of-business sales, and would fill these trunks with clothing and anything else for brothers, sisters, cousins, and all others back home, things that might be needed or would please.

In those days, railroads carried trunks in the baggage cars for free, included in the price of the passenger fare, so a car of trunks had to be loaded before the train pulled out. Also, at Sackville, New Brunswick, the trunks had to be taken off the through train to Halifax and put on the short-run train to The Island, crossing the Northumberland Strait by ferry from Cape Tormentine to Borden. That crossing, if you take the trip today, has been replaced by a 14-mile bridge called "the link."

So when island folk went home, each had a trunk of surprises. Then, when returning to the Boston States, every one of them brought back a trunk full of turnips to last the winter. The baggage porter at Sackville noticed the difference, for an eastbound trunk full of underwear and trinkets weighed but little, whereas on the return it was around 400 pounds.

That's what the people told me.

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