My grandparents were hillbillies. In our sensitive world, where folks find offense in the most unbelievable sources, the term “hillbilly” might be misconstrued. My grandparents took care of their families and their neighbors. Their knowledge of growing and harvesting carried them through the Great Depression and set them up for lives of self-sufficiency. Read that word “hillbilly” as someone marked by honesty, hard work, integrity, and dependability. I shudder to think of the knowledge and wisdom that passed from this earth when the four of them went on to glory to live with Jesus.

Woodrow Wilson Nichols, my Dad’s dad, and the one we called Pop, warned me about buying a pig in a poke. And he punctuated the sentence with his usual laughter which I grew up to interpret as Pop having a solid message to share but delivering it so the experience was pleasant for both of us. Not sure he conversed with everyone in that way, but Pop loved me, a fact I never doubted. He smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes morning to night. When he found out that tobacco smoke was a trigger for my debilitating childhood asthma he removed the pack from his pocket and dumped it in the trash can. To my knowledge he never smoked another one.

What I knew about pigs I learned from Pop. He raised them in a fenced lot up the hill near the cemetery. The trip to slop the hogs was too far to walk, and one Nichols had to carefully support the buckets filled with slop while another Nichols drove up the winding road to the barn. The ride and the fellowship of hanging out with my aunt and uncles made the overpowering aroma from the hog sty bearable. Pop butchered hogs, cured hogs in his “meat house,” and ate hogs. Bacon, sausage, ham—salt cured and mouth-watering nourishment.

Now when a stalwart character like Pop warned about “buying a pig in a poke,” I set up and paid attention. I knew “poke” was Grandma’s term for the paper bags she toted home from the grocery store. Those plain brown items had more practical uses than one can list. And what about pigs? Well, refer to the previous paragraph where I shared that Pop knew about pigs. But why would anyone want to put a pig in a paper bag?

On one trip home from Clay, West Virginia, Mom had Dad stop by a roadside produce stand operated by a farmer near our home. The sign advertised half-runner green beans by the bushel, and Mom loved to can those beans for the winter months. As we strung beans Mom grew angry. Only the top beans were half-runners. The lower layers consisted of overgrown leathery pole beans and bean vines. She was livid and uttered, “Well, I guess you should never buy a pig in a poke!”

There was that phrase again. I learned that exercising caution when buying something from an unknown person was a prudent course. Buying something without knowing its value or seeing it first was to take a big chance with hard-earned money. The expression according to the Internet originated in the 1500s when merchants would sell piglets in pokes, often the weakest and unlikely to survive piglets, to unsuspecting buyers. Hold on to your money, open the sack, and take a peek at the merchandise first, my friend.

Most gardeners have mail-ordered seeds or cultivars of plants at one time or another. We have good and bad experiences under our suspenders from that practice. What disappointment to open the package and find a dead or wilted whatever. And then there are those moments were our joy soars as we dance around with our new acquisition—lush, green, perky, and giving every indication of promise. Pop’s advice about pigs and pokes rings true in the gardening world.

jury's yellow camellia
Jury’s Yellow Camellia, Photo borrowed from

On one of our garden review walks Shawn and I decided to remove an American cranberry bush (viburnum) and replace it with a camellia. My part was to cut and dig. Her part was to determine the cultivar to add. She chose a Jury’s Yellow camellia, and I set out to find one. Local shops had none, and an internet search turned up site after site with the words “Sold Out” pasted across the stunning images of the Jury’s Yellow blooms. I found an “unknown to me” garden concern two hours away that advertised Jury’s Yellow in the three gallon size. Their price included shipping. Shawn does not ask for much, and when her heart attaches to a particular plant I want to add it to her garden for her. I took a chance and ordered.

Wow! Lots of Plants in Winston-Salem delivered! We received healthy plants with great root structures packaged ingeniously to protect them from harm. I was sufficiently impressed to return to Google and add my review to the site, a practice I would encourage for online shoppers. Most of those sites we visit represent someone trying to make a living to feed their families. I can take a few minutes to help a stranger. What about you?

Have you ever been afraid to pass the steering wheel of your life over to God? I wrestle with fears over where He may take me, and while Pop’s advice applies in business transactions it does not fit well when God asks for blind trust. Faith. Do I have it or not?

I’ve never known God to hand me a detailed plan for the coming year and ask for my approval. Instead He passes me a blank sheet and asks for my total commitment before He reveals step one. And that’s hard.

But how many times have I danced with joy over His workings? When did I look back and see that with precision and perfection He carried me through adversity and made me stronger for it? Have I found His blessings to be abundantly beyond what I had envisioned for myself?

Trusting God with my life is not buying a pig in a poke. It’s learning to walk in a relationship with One whose wisdom dwarfs my own. One whose vision of the past, present and future is flawless.

‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 NASB

See you in the garden!