-Garden Rose, photo by Cathy Pouria
I intended this next blog post to be about planting tomatoes, peppers and onions (and we’ll get to that in the next post), but then we lost my grandmother last week. She was a talented gardener who inspired me in many ways, so I thought it only fitting to dedicate this post to just a few of the things she taught me during her “great run” (as my husband puts it) of 90 years, both about life and gardening.
My grandma had the greenest of green thumbs. Raised on a farm in Eastern Kentucky, there wasn’t a plant that she couldn’t grow, and during the weeks I spent with her during the summers of my childhood I watched as she cared for her plants and tended her garden. Her caring nature extended beyond plants to all those around her, family, friends and neighbors. One summer when I was about 9 or 10 years old, every so often we would walk around the corner to a little house. I loved going there because there was an old barn and grounds to explore, but that’s not why we went. We went there so my grandma could care for a very elderly woman who was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease and was no longer able to leave her bed. Her family needed help with the round the clock care she required, and so off we went. I don’t remember what, if anything my grandma explained to me beforehand or after, but I do remember her actions while we were there. The woman called my grandma “Ada”, and although that was not her name, she went along with it. “I’m here.” she’d say cheerfully, and “I have your bananas and milk” as she fed her with a spoon. A child, I played outside, wandering in and out of the house and noticing how my grandma talked to and treated the woman with respect and dignity as she fed her, changed her diaper, and sat with her. She did all of this out of the goodness of her heart, because her neighbors needed help and because caring for others came as naturally as breathing air to her. The memories of our time in that house have stuck with me vividly for my entire life and became especially poignant in later years as my grandma’s own dementia began to worsen. I knew how to treat her, and others, and how to approach it with my own children because she taught me all those years ago. She taught me that we can preach caring and kindness to our children until we are blue in the face, but the most important thing we can do is to show them.
About Reaching Out-
Maybe it was her Appalachian nature, but my grandma had a way of reaching out to people, literally and figuratively. She’d reach her hand out to someone, then hold their hand and say things like “Oh it’s so nice to see you again!” in her sweet southern accent. About 13 years ago we were all sitting in a shared hospital room, visiting my mother who had been diagnosed with cancer. There was a woman lying in the other bed, and I kept my distance, figuring that the woman wouldn’t want to be disturbed by a stranger. My grandma, however, peered around the curtain. “How are you feeling today, Janine?”, she asked. Sometime over the course of our visits, my grandma had learned her name, and all about her family, illness and what led her to this particular doctor and hospital. Just as plants need tending, so do people. And if there was a person in my grandma’s vicinity that needed tending, she fearlessly reached out. Whether it was a phone call, an encouraging word, driving her elderly neighbor to the grocery store every week, (another childhood memory which I wrote a little story about for Capper’s Farmer magazine), fixing lunch for people in her local soup kitchen, or stopping by for a visit. As far as she was concerned, reaching out was the right thing to do.
About Accepting What Is-
After my mother died, my grandma and I were calling each other just about every day to check in. During one of our chats, she said to me calmly “Well, this is just the way it has to be now.” It was so simple. It wasn’t easy, but there are some situations that are what they are. There was nothing we could do about it, and nothing that could change it. It just was, and it’s a saying that has given me strength through several difficult situations.
About True Strength-
I never could confuse my grandma’s kindness and compassion with weakness, because while she was those things, she was also a very strong woman. As my aunt put it “No one ever told that woman what to do-ever.” She was opinionated, she was feisty, and she stood up for herself and others. She valued leadership. That being said, not once in my life did I ever hear her call someone a name or disparage someone because of what they looked like or their material possessions. She taught me that a woman doesn’t need to tear someone else down in order to get her point across.
Now that you’ve read through my sentimental reminiscing, and since this is a garden blog after all, I’ll share just a couple of things she taught me about gardening. Aside from a fondness for roses, she taught me that the best thing to do with yellow squash is to slice it, batter and fry it up in an iron skillet, and that the best thing to do with a freshly picked sun-warmed tomato is to put it on white bread with mayonnaise and a side of salted garden cucumbers.
I’m sure that my grandma was not a perfect person, just as I’m not, because there are no perfect people. I do know though, that her tiny corner of the world was made just a little bit better because she lived in it. I hope you enjoyed reading these “family heirlooms” of mine.