Saturday, January 29, 2011

Part 3: Tending the garden of our LIFE

My grandma and grandpa years before I was even a twinkle in the eye of my mom who is in the background. 

A few years later. Still hanging out.

Do you ever wish you had a certain photo of your grandparents that showed who they truly were? All I've got of my grandparents are posed photos taken at parties. 

If I could have a photo to show what my grandpa looked like to me, he'd be sitting at the kitchen table smoking a cigarette with oil stained hands. He was a farmer and was constantly fixing farm equipment. The photo of my grandma would be of her in the garden. She'd be wearing a long sundress, bent over with her ass end high in the air pulling out weeds between the onions. 

That was my grandma.

Grandma wasn't one for a lot of chit chat when I was a kid. English was her second language. There were commands for after lunch: "Go wash your hands. Don't touch the walls." And commands for in the car: "No feets on the seats." One of my favorite commands was: "Have it to me" when she would want me to give her something. She never quite mastered when to use the verb To Have and the word To Give. I never corrected her because it made it easier to imitate her later.

Though we didn't rattle on together, grandma and I had a common language in the garden.

My childhood homestead was largely self-sustaining. We would heat our home with wood we cut ourselves (painful), we made our own maple syrup, we canned fruit from our orchard and we made a wide variety of culinary concoctions out of what we grew in our garden.

My garden was an aching acre and it came with it's own grandma. 

Most mornings of summer, grandma would barrel up the driveway to toil in the garden. I'd be sitting on the step petting kittens and ask her, "Flip flops or running shoes?" 

Flip flops were fine to wear in the garden for most jobs except for hoeing weeds, which required running shoes.

She'd nod hello and say, "Flip flops. Grab a basket. Beans today."

And we'd head out to the garden to pick beans. Sometimes the row of green beans was eternal. You'd be surprised just how many beans you can get from one plant. I'd whine, "Grandma, why did we plant so many beans?"

She'd reply, "You'll be happy you did in November. Happier still in February. Keep picking."

When I picked carrots, I'd ask, "Grandma, why are some carrots short and some long? Especially when we planted them all at the same time?"

She'd reply, "Some days are short and some long but they are all the same time. That's just how it is."

Sometimes zucchini would grow huge literally overnight. "Wow, grandma. Look at this." I'd hold up a two-foot long zucchini. "It's ginormous!

She'd reply, "Don't get too excited. Bigger zucchinis aren't as good as the smaller ones."

I didn't understand this until much later in life. 

Grandma would explain that some crops are ready to harvest early for a reason, like radishes, which are always ready first even if you pretty much ignore them. "Radishes come up first so you have strength for the growing season. As the season goes by, you get stronger and stronger so you can carry the heavy pumpkins, which are the last to harvest."

"Grandma! You're just joking."

"See if I'm right. See if the radishes come up first and the pumpkins come up last. Then you tell me why that is. God doesn't make mistakes."

Once we weeded what needed weeding and picked what needed picking, we went to the kitchen to prepare it for winter. I'd cut this and that and have it over to her. She'd blanch this and that. I'd carry the jars or freezer bags of tasty vittles down to the cellar. And she was right about those beans. I was always glad to have them in November and especially glad in February.

One year, right before I left for university, grandma departed this life. But not until pumpkin harvest.

I can't even believe this life I had. It seemed like so much work back then. And it was. But now, it all seems charming. And now when I dream of my future, it includes a garden. Perhaps someday, I will be the one in a sundress, bent over with my ass end in the air, pulling out the weeds between the onions. 

"Grandma, why is this row of beans so crooked?"

"So I can fit more plants in it. Keep picking." 


  1. Thank you Jan.

  2. Okay. This is my favorite post, by far, of yours. :).
    Tears are rolling.

  3. Jan, I know we will always share a special bond because we both hate picking beans. Roxy

  4. I love this post. I had similar experiences when I was a kid. It seemed so hard then, but now it seems so simple. I like the simple part.

  5. Aunt GodelieveJanuary 31, 2011

    Jan I remember when those pics were taken and the endless row of green beans and of course the mountain of tomatoes tobot! Don't know if you remember how she could never finish a joke because she'd be laughing so much before the punch line.

  6. Thanks for sharing a part of Grandma that I don't remember. It means so much hearing these stories.

  7. This was so sweet. I have garden envy. Although my mind went somewhere else on the zucchini discussion...


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