Sunday, February 22, 2009
Giant Vegetable Man
My family is descended from an old Pennsylvania Dutch family on my mother's side, the Drebelbis (dry-bell-BIS) family. There is big fat book that traces our roots to the 1732 arrival of John Jacob Drebelbis as a colonial settler from the German Palatine region. There is a reunion on an ancient family farm every summer. There is an old photo of my mother as a little girl at the 200th anniversary in 1932, and she appears again, with my kids an I, in the 275th anniversary photo.
Anyway, my mom has always been on the lookout for the Drebelibis name in the news. The name has been spelled many ways as people moved to other parts of the country. Many years ago, my mom spotted a man named Howard Trivelpiece in a magazine article about gardening. My mom wrote to him in California, to tell him about the Drebelibis Cousins of America reunions, should he wish to attend.
Howard has never come East for a reunion, but my mom has been exchanging letters and holiday cards with him ever since. At 97, he is still raising giant vegetables in his northern California backyard. He has a radish, a beet, and a 3.25-pound head of garlic in the Guinness Book of World Records. This past year, the Siskiyou Golden Fair gave him an award for 80 (!) years of competing at the fair, and they named a building for him: the Howard Trivelpiece Ag-Hort Building. He first entered rabbits, in 1928, as a 4-H member. In his best year at the fair, he won 67 ribbons!
His wife Velva is 94. Isn't her name cool? Velva. You don't often hear of a couple where both live into their 90s. They must eat their vegetables.
Howard raises a lot of vegetables and gives them away - except for the best of the crop, which he saves to enter in the fair. Every year, he says he has to save his best veg for what might be his last fair. He credits his success to careful soil building, using lots of rabbit manure, although he is also a Miracle-Gro fan.
I think it's fun that my mom has been writing to him all these years. I'm going to send him a card and a photo of Mom in the garden this summer. I want to know if Velva was a canner. Maybe he'll want to swap seeds!