Grandpa’s Garden

I never knew my paternal grandfather. He died when my dad was three years old, but my step-grandfather was very special to me, and I always called him Grandpa. My grandparents lived on Superior Street, and they had one of the largest gardens in town. My grandfather worked hard in his garden, it looked like it belonged in a magazine. There was a symmetry to it, and I never saw a weed because when one sprouted up, Grandpa made sure to get rid of it. Everything was neat and orderly, just like he was.

I was introduced to vegetables at a young age, but unlike most kids, I loved them. I was probably the only child in grade school who could boast of such a thing. Grandma and Grandpa always shared the abundance from their garden with my parents. Their vegetables were a main staple in our house. Grandpa would also drive to my maternal grandmother’s house on the other side of town and share the produce with her. I know she appreciated it because money was tight for her. I’m sure many of their neighbors benefited from their generosity, too.

He grew the usual garden vegetables like leaf lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, and potatoes, but they also had Swiss chard, collard greens, peas, beans, carrots, onions, squash, strawberries, and more.

On certain days of the week, Grandma would call WSOO and announce she had fruit and vegetables for sale at a certain time that day. She would open the living room window and take the screen out while people lined up to purchase the produce. Grandma had her metal money box on the end table by the window.  She had quite the setup. It was much better than a stand because she didn’t have to be outside in the heat. People usually brought their own bags and baskets, but Grandma had a supply of A&P paper bags on hand, just in case someone forgot theirs.

She made all their bread, and that, too, got passed around and sold. She was well known for her brown breads, my favorite being whole wheat. While other kids ate white bread with their sandwiches, I ate whole wheat or some other brown bread. To this day, I don’t buy white bread.

I loved riding my bike to their house. If Grandpa was in the garden when I arrived, he’d leave what he was doing and come into the house and visit. But first, he made sure my bicycle was in working order. Grandpa kept it oiled, the brakes checked, and the tires inflated. One year, he bought me a red tire pump at Montgomery Ward so I could inflate my tires in case they needed it when he wasn’t around.

Grandpa never knew a stranger. He could talk and talk and never run out of things to say. Grandma wasn’t as chatty, but that could have been because Grandpa talked so much. When Grandma talked, it was usually about cooking vegetables, making bread, biscuits, and her famous date-filled cookies. She taught me to make biscuits because I happened to think she made the best. On my first try, they tasted like soda crackers, but she gave me some valuable tips, like mixing the dough with a fork instead of a spoon, making a well in the center of the mixing bowl, and then adding the milk, using my hands to form the dough into a ball. The biscuits tasted much better the second time around, but still not as good as hers.

During the winter months, when Grandpa wasn’t in the garden, I could find him studying all kinds of garden magazines and seed catalogs. He loved talking about his garden, and I enjoyed listening to him. Grandma would be sitting in her chair across the room, placed next to the table with the doily on top that she had crocheted. The table held her medicine bottles, reading glasses, phone, and notepad. She didn’t have to leave her chair too often if she didn’t want to. Grandpa did most of the shopping, but Grandma did venture out once a week to get her hair done and tinted blue. I guess that was all the rage back in the ’60s.

Grandma kept an old leather, or what I like to call a well-loved change purse, the kind with the clasp on top, filled with change and sometimes single dollar bills. She gave it to me when I visited and always told me to bring it back next time so she could start filling it again. She always handed it to me on the sly. She never wanted Grandpa to know she was giving it to me. I know Grandpa wouldn’t have cared, but it seemed especially special that Grandma and I had a secret, just to ourselves. She asked me once if I wanted her to teach me to knit and crochet. I learned just enough to knit a third of a scarf and knew knitting wasn’t my thing. As an adult, I wish I could go back and change that decision and have allowed Grandma to teach me to crochet.

It may have been Grandma who gave me a small potholder loom. Each time I visited, I took her a new potholder I had made. I imagine she had drawers full of potholders that never got used. That’s one way I could tell she loved me because she always fussed over them.

My grandparents weren’t the touchy-feely kind of grandparents. They didn’t hug or say, “I love you,” but I know they did. I have found through life that people are different, and just because we don’t always tell people how we feel, we can always show them in other ways. Grandma and Grandpa did that through their smiles that lit up their faces whenever I visited. They treated me like an adult and not a child. I kind of liked that feeling of not being treated like a child. They talked to me about grown-up things, like gardening, cooking, and what was on sale at the A&P or the Piggly Wiggly. I didn’t mind. I just loved spending time with them. They never made me feel like an imposition. They didn’t sit me in front of the television while they went about their business. They didn’t make me feel like I was being silly when I talked about “kid” stuff and what my dolls and my baby sister were doing or who I was playing with at school. They were always interested in what I had to say.

Grandma wasn’t like my maternal grandmother. I didn’t have those cozy vibes that I had around my maternal grandmother. I only remember having one meal at her house, and that was with my dad. I’m not sure why. I guess it was just another one of the many quirks she had. She was loving and yet aloof at the same time. But I still felt excited whenever I got to visit. That was just the way things were at their house.

I had a long walk from where I lived to the old junior high school. I would pass Grandma and Grandpa’s house on the way to school, and no matter what kind of weather, Grandma would have the front door open and wave to me. If I didn’t walk by, she would call my mom to check that I was okay.

I guess this story isn’t just about Grandpa’s garden. It evolved into other memories that I have of them. It’s like taking a pleasant walk down memory lane, one that I wish could go on forever. To this day, when I picture my grandparents, it’s with Grandpa in his garden and Grandma at the front door waiting for me to walk by each school morning. I learned a lot from them as a young girl. That it’s okay to be different and yet know and show love. That giving isn’t always about what people can give you but what you can give them. I know my grandparents looked forward to my visits. I could just tell. Kids can sense things like that. I believe that kids who don’t have a relationship with their grandparents are missing out on something special. Grandparents, too, miss out on those special moments. You can’t undo the past, but you can learn from mistakes. Never let distance or time keep you from getting to know loved ones. It’s never too late to form special bonds. Much can be learned and taught from these relationships – memories to put away for that future day when time starts running out and days start getting shorter. Maybe this story is about Grandpa’s garden, after all. It’s about growing and cultivating relationships. It’s about nursing them along and weeding out those things that help us in our future relationships. I guess all I know is that I was one of the lucky ones. I can’t imagine life any differently, nor do I want to.

Written by: Laurie Davis

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