TAYLORSVILLE — Thurman Mackay spent the summer as he has spent many previous summers: on his hands and knees in his backyard, tending his garden on his half-acre lot in Taylorsville.
Many gardeners choose to get on their hands and knees as they care for their plants, but for Mackay, who will turn 93 in January and is unable to walk without help, it’s the only way.
“I was a farmer from the time I was born,” Mackay said. “And I’m still farming.”
He lives alone in a modest brick home just down the street from where he was born on Jan. 29, 1921.
“It’s not that often that anybody his age is that passionate to the point they’re out there crawling around in their garden,” said Shanna Spicer, who has been Mackay’s neighbor for 33 years. Her backyard borders the north side of Mackay’s garden.
Mackay starts each day between 5:30 and 6 a.m. He gets dressed, has his breakfast and, if the weather is good, heads outside.
To reach his backyard garden, he settles into his motorized wheelchair and drives it out the front door, down a ramp and around the house. When he reaches his destination, he scoots out of the chair and onto his hands and knees. He wears boots and kneepads to protect his legs.
He uses plastic five-gallon buckets to move himself along and to collect the day’s harvest. He works through the morning until his lunch in delivered by Meals on Wheels. But as soon as he’s finished eating, it’s back to work.
The fourth of eight siblings, including one who died in infancy, Mackay was a child when the Great Depression hit.
“Back in the Depression, I had to go barefoot until I was old enough so my folks could buy me a pair of shoes that fit,” he said.
His plight of not having shoes during part of his childhood was caused by more than the economy of the time. Mackay was born with a misshapen left foot that is two sizes smaller than his right foot.
That foot led to his being disqualified from military service on the three occasions he was drafted after graduating from Granite High School.
“I got 4-F three times,” he said. “I was up to Fort Douglas three different times, and they refused me to go to the army on account of that bum foot.”
His foot didn’t slow him down much in everyday life, however.
“When we were kids, we’d watch him dancing around,” said his daughter, Beth McBride. “He’d do a mean jitterbug.”
Mackay met his wife, Mary Winn, at a dance at the Coconut Grove in Salt Lake City in 1945. They were married in Farmington in 1946 and were later sealed in the Salt Lake Temple and had two kids. Mary had a stroke in her 30s and died in 1993, and their son, Larry, died in 2005.
Mackay’s ancestors were farmers, and he used to farm with his brother, uncle and father.
“The three of us went farming 100 acres plus the farm, and all the three of us worked for the county and state,” he said.
Politics made his father’s work difficult at times, Mackay said.
“Every time they had an election, a new Democrat or Republican changed, they let everybody go. He’d be off work until they hired him back,” he said.
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