Call me a gardening geek, but yes, that is a photo of some of my sweet potatoes, which we finished eating just a couple months ago. I took the picture because a) they were the first sweet potatoes I had ever grown and b) they might have been one of the last relics of a business that fell victim to June’s devastating flood in Cedar Rapids.
I bought the sweet potato plant in May from Ray’s Market, near Czech Village in Cedar Rapids, just weeks before the flood that devastated not only Czech Village and my old neighborhood near Ray’s Market, but many other parts of the city.
It took me awhile to track down Ray’s Market owner Fran Smith, someone I didn’t even know by name before the flood. She was hesitant to talk about what happened and who could blame her. Not only had she lost her business, a longtime icon at Bowling and C streets SW, but her son, who worked in the store with her, nearly lost his life around the same time. Lynn Smith had to have his leg amputated after he was hospitalized with pneumonia and an infection right before the flood. He and his wife, Karren, lived in a home behind Ray’s Market. The family has been through a harrowing year, but Lynn pulled through his illness.
Fran decided against the burdensome cost of rebuilding Ray’s Market. I’m sure many people will miss the blooming petunias and other bedding plants that lined the front of the shop come springtime. And I’ll have to track down another sweet potato plant elsewhere. In the meantime, you can catch up with Fran and her mother, who sell homemade jelly, jams, floral arrangements and aprons, at Cedar Rapids farmers markets. Fran also said she would consider selling Ray’s Market, as well as the house behind it. Although the business is in shambles, the home can be rebuilt.
More on their story is in the Friday, Feb. 27, 2009, issue of The Gazette.