Vietnam veteran, a garden novice, fills the shelves with produce

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Aug 04, 2010 - 05:15 PM

A frequent question to this writer is "How do you find all of these nice people to write about?" This is one example of how it all comes together.

Photo: With pitchfork in hand Kenneth Flaum is ready to work his garden while his wife Helaine waits to can or freeze their vegetable crops. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day.

With pitchfork in hand Kenneth Flaum is ready to work his garden while his wife Helaine waits to can or freeze their vegetable crops. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day.

An e-mail arrived that said, "I thought that maybe this would be an interesting gardening story to put into the paper since my husband is a highly decorated veteran from the Vietnam war. We moved from Williamsburg to Gloucester three years ago and just love it here. Last year Kenneth Flaum, my husband, planted a small garden for the first time. We started out with tomato plants and pepper plants. They did very well so we decided to add additional vegetables this year. Kenneth was a combat corpsman. He earned three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star. In spite of all of his disabilities from his injuries in Vietnam, he planted (this year) tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplant and cucumbers. …Because of his military disabilities he is limited to what he can do, but the garden has given him something that he can do and evidently he is doing it right. Between our garden and our wonderful greyhounds, we are immensely enjoying the change from Williamsburg to Gloucester." Signed, Helaine Flaum.

Helaine’s e-mail was a story in itself, but when you meet the two of them, the story gets better. Ken and Helaine were classmates in elementary school in Florida, but as time passed their paths of life went in different directions. After many years, through a friend, the two of them got back together. Helaine lived in Florida, and Kenneth resided in Williamsburg at the time. It wasn’t long before they decided to marry and live in Virginia.

Together they are very active with Colonial Greyhound Adoption, finding homes for retired greyhound racing dogs and owning two of their own, Angel and Blaze. "We have found homes for 100 greyhounds this year."

Helaine stays busy canning and preserving the harvest of their garden. They both do the cooking. "I was a bachelor for 12 years so I had to learn how to cook," Ken said and added, "Helaine does most of the cooking but I make the spaghetti from the tomato sauce she puts up. We have eight varieties of tomatoes growing. I like to grill and do most all of that. I cook salmon, our favorite, wrapped in aluminum foil with added seasonings and then grill."

"We’re eating a lot of salads and we use the Crock-Pot often," Helaine added.

Ken’s enthusiasm for his garden reflects his active lifestyle as a younger man. Baseball was his sport. He was All-American in high school and signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. Although the full enjoyment of his favorite sport was interrupted by the war in Vietnam—he is 100 percent disabled—Ken keeps a smile on his face, enjoys being married, plays some golf when he can and loves to fish with Helaine but says, "I can’t bend very far in order to work or pick the harvest in my garden." That’s a small complaint from a man who has given so much to his country.