Flower Gardening and Grandma's House

     In going through old papers, I came across this essay I wrote years ago. Preston, who in the essay is said to be four-years-old, is now twenty-one. But the phlox plant still grows in my garden. Being the middle of winter, when flower gardens are only memories, it seemed appropriate to share other fond memories as well.


A phlox plant grows in my flower garden. It blooms pale lavender flowers late in the summer when most other flowers have come and gone. Other than that there is nothing extremely striking or unique about it. It is, in fact, a rather common flower. Yet to me, who loves my flowers almost as much as I love my children, it is a favorite. It came from a start I took from the phlox growing in my grandmother’s garden. We dug the start, put it in a large can, and arranged it carefully in the back of the car for the two hundred mile trip from Grandma’s house to mine.
                This past summer my sister visited me when the phlox were in bloom. I had her close her eyes and smell some of the blossoms I had arranged in a bouquet on my table.
                “What does it remind you of?” I asked.
                Her immediate answer was, “Grandma’s house.”
                I knew it would be.
                Often as I weed and dig around the phlox in my garden, I will catch a whiff and I am transported back in time to my grandmother’s house. I see the old upright piano with a line of photographs on top of it. One large frame holds a picture of Grandpa’s family when he was a baby—the fifteenth of sixteen children. Other pictures are of my mother and my aunt taken in the glamorous style of the 1950’s. Beside the piano is Grandma’s large chair and a table holding her telephone. It is the days of party lines. One ring means it is for Grandma. Two short ones mean it is for the neighbor. On the other side of the piano is the formal dining table pushed up against the wall. The only time I have eaten at that table is on Thanksgiving. All other meals at Grandma’s are eaten at the big table in the kitchen. Beyond the kitchen is the screened porch which is Grandma’s laundry room. It holds Grandma’s ringer style washing machine, with a rope stretched across the room serving as a clothes line. Through the screens I can see the garage where Grandpa’s old tractor is parked. I no longer runs on anything except children’s imaginations. Playing on it is one of our favorite things to do when my brothers, my sisters, and I visit Grandpa and Grandma. Occasionally we have the privilege of sleeping over at their house. My sister and I share one of the cold back bedrooms. We snuggle to keep warm between the sheets on the large soft bed. We will awake in the morning to the distant sound of a tractor working the fields or the soft mooing of the cows as Grandpa herds them in for milking. These are not sounds we hear at home, but they do not seem foreign to us. They are part of being at our grandparents’ house, and that is almost the same as being at home.
                Outside in the yard are Grandma’s flowers—lilacs, poppies, spirea, peonies, and of course the phlox. She loves them all, but her pride are her roses. Grandma allows me to pick a bouquet from her garden, including some of her precious roses, to take home with me. I feel very privileged. I hold it tightly and smell its lovely fragrance the whole way home.
                It this where my love of flowers was born? Or did it come to me through the genes that passed from my grandmother to my mother to me?
                Grandma lived in her home and tended her flowers into her nineties. Then it became necessary for her to move in with my parents and eventually into a rest home. Even there she worried and fussed about who was taking care of her garden.
                The buzzing of a bee near my ear brings me back to the present, and I continue my gardening chores. My four-year-old son, Preston, joins me.
                “What’s that flower?” he asks.
                “Phlox,” I reply.
                “It’s pretty,” he says and steps forward to smell it.  “Mmmm,” he begins even before his nose has come near the flowers. He does not know it but he is breathing in my childhood memories.
                He moves to another flower. “What’s this flower?”
                “Purple coneflower,” I reply. We have been having this conversation all summer, only the names of the flowers have changed as the plants have each taken their turn in bloom.
                “Can I pick some?” Preston asks.
                “Sure,” I reply.
                He tugs at the phlox, and I help him pull off one bunch before his efforts pull over an entire plant. Then he plucks some asters and black-eyed Susans. He clutches his bouquet in his chubby hands. “Aren’t the pretty,” he asks.
                “They sure are,” I answer.
                Preston beams and buries his nose in the flowers. Watching him, I see that the “genes” which have come to me from my grandmother are now being passed down to a new generation.

               

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