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Monday, August 15, 2011

Grandparents in my garden

By Jennifer

When my columbines burst open this summer I was transported to my Grandpa Earl's front steps. A columbine is a rather unique looking flower, with star-shaped blooms atop long, trailing pointy petals. The flower beds flanking Grandpa's front door were full of 'em, presenting a vivid white, yellow and blue welcome mat. Even though I never asked him, I figured columbines must be my grandpa's absolute favorite flower, to have them in such profusion. It was like our shared contempt of cucumbers (among a teasing family that loves them) -- another funny little tidbit to bond the two of us together.

Jennifer's grandfather, age 82, and her children, ages 3 and 11 months. June 1999.

This month marks Grandpa Earl's birthday. He would have been 95. There seems such a huge distance between that number and 88, the age when he died. I wish I could still visit him. I wish my children could play in his sandbox, then saunter inside to open his treat/cookie drawer and hear him call out, "What's a seven-letter word for keepsake?" * while he did the crossword. I miss him.

I miss my other three grandparents, too. All four are gone.

I was mulling my status as a "grandparent orphan" one day as I worked in my garden. The columbines, naturally, made me think of Grandpa Earl. Then, as I started weeding, I heard the words Uncle Willis gave in a funeral tribute to his mother, my Grandma Orton. Sitting is not the proper posture for working, she had taught him as a young boy. When a task requires us to be close to the ground, we summon more strength by kneeling.

I began to think of all the other ways my garden brings my grandparents near:

The mingling scents of flowers remind me of how Grandpa Orton humored fussy Grandma, as shown the time I was 13, visiting from another state. They took me to the mall. Grandma flitted from perfume counter to perfume counter, each time waiting for Grandpa to sniff his approval. "Mmm," he said with the air of a practiced connoisseur. "That stinks pretty good."

I think of GranMarie, Grandpa Earl's wife, every time I brush past a tomato plant and release the aroma of her minestrone recipe. Come winter I make about a batch a week. I look at my apple tree and remember her pushing me high enough on the swing in her yard that I feared hitting fruit.

I have just one zucchini plant this season (one is enough!), but even with such a small quarry there's sure to be one squash that will escape notice -- you know, the kind you never, ever see forming until it's the size of a man's leg. And I'll laugh to remember the time my dad, brothers and I slipped such a specimen beneath the disproportionately puny leaves of Grandpa Earl's squash plant. He was too shocked to notice the curious lack of stem/plant attachment.

I hunted for worms by flashlight in my grandparents' carrot rows, felt my grandmother's patience when I pretended to understand my her grape vine pruning lesson, expectantly planted vegetable seeds with my grandparents, harvested alongside them. That all these memories can take form in my own garden today makes me very grateful indeed.

crossword answer:


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post. Your words set my day up for sunshine and gardening with a big smile on my face. Thank you!

anthropsychopathy said...

I too am a "grand-parent orphan". One I never knew, two died within a month of each other 9 years ago, and one just passed 4 months ago. She had the greenest thumb I think I've ever seen. Last month I was at her house (my parents sold it and were getting the last little things out) and I saw that many of her plants were wilting. I wanted to cry, thinking of how upset she would be had she seen her plants in such a state. But whenever I see an antique rose, a large seashell, or hear the twang of Willie Nelson on the radio, I'm reminded of her and the fact that people never really die; their spirit lives on through the memories of those who loved them.

Mrs. Farmer said...

I completely understand about hidden fruit - my cucumbers are doing it right now. Is that why the family has such distain for them? Mine, for the first time ever, are trying to take over the entire garden! that is not a complaint!

Thank you for a great post. It was funny and touching all at the same time.

Summer said...

Honestly, I can't taste the difference between the eggs I get at the farmer's market and the ones in the store (granted, they aren't the super-red-omigosh-are-these-from-the-same-species eggs that I truly long for) because of how many things I add to my eggs before I actually eat them, but nevertheless, I LOVE fresh eggs. Why? In the Emirates, egg yolks are orange as they should be, the way I had them every morning with my grandfather. I didn't have orange eggs again until after he died, and when I saw those yolks, I cried.