Long Ago: Community Entry #22


I am building community up in this neck of the woods in all sorts of places I'd never think to look at home...

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Grandma’s Garden, by Susie Hartman

Grandma let us kids select a vegetable we wanted to grow.  Sweet Peas were always my first choice.  Grandma’s garden was planned and plotted through each long and cold Nebraska winter and would take up the better part of one fourth of our acre sized back yard.  Starting with seeds in little cups of dirt on our kitchen table, we would all cheer the sprouts as their life began, until six weeks later when Grandma placed them gently in their selected spots.  She would lovingly pat the dirt around each one, giving the little seedlings the support they would need to get through their young life and on to maturity.    There is a picture of her leaning on the handle of her hoe with a grin as broad as the straw hat on her head.  Standing in the midst of the life she nurtured must have given her a feeling of purpose.  

What memories we have of my Grandma and that garden.   My brother, sister and I would try to get up earlier than the others so we could be first to the garden to pick the juiciest strawberry or the fattest sweet pea.  Grandma would often pull a rhubarb stalk from the plant and sprinkle it with sugar for us all to take a bite of the bittersweet taste.   At the end of the summer would come harvest time.  Once there was an early freeze and our entire family was out in the cold picking every last tomatoe on the vine.  The smell of tomatoe plants, and of the hot cocoa made to warm us, always brings me back to that night.  Autumn also heralded in the canning of tomatoes, pumpkins and cucumbers.  Thanksgiving would be the grand inauguration of the garden’s fall harvest where we would have friends and family come from afar for Mom’ s prepared feast, packed with the wealth of vegetables lovingly grown in Grandma’s summer garden.

I suppose Grandma’s love of gardening was destined from her heritage. She was born in 1903 to German Immigrants, whose late 1800’s American dream landed them working on a farm in Iowa.   Great Grandpa would not allow Grandma to go to school so she never did learn to read.  This young farm girl named Josephine married a hard working farm boy and had five sons.  At the old age of 42, Grandma gave birth to Lucille Josephine, my mom.  Her unexpected daughter never left her side.   As soon as Grandma’s last son left home, my Grandfather also moved out.  This left Mom and Grandma  to care for each other.   Years later their interdependence on each other was sealed when Grandma went to chase a rogue cow, causing her to fall into a ditch where she broke her ankle.  The only doctor in the small town hospital was a drunk who did not provide her proper care.  There was no choice but to amputate her leg below the knee when the gangrene set in.   My mom was just seventeen, and Grandma’s sole/soul provider.

Grandma lived with us during our growing-up years.  She was not the soft and padded greeting card type of Grandma most kids had in those old television shows.  She was more weathered and wiry, with bent crippled fingers and a crooked nose from a sledding accident as a kid.  She smoked cigarettes, and of course, had her fake wooden leg.   Mom and Grandma made an agreement.  Grandma would watch us kids while Mom and Dad worked, but she refused to cook.   In spite of her wooden leg, we saw Grandma hang every load of our seven member family’s laundry out on the clothesline, police four young children, and tend to her garden daily.

Grandma was good to us in her rough way and we kids loved her deeply.  She was the kind of grandma who would sneak the dreaded unwanted food off our plates and onto hers so that we could be excused from the table.   I remember her fondly as she rocked the baby in her arms, singing, terribly off key, “He’s got the Whole World in His hands.”  This while hitting the side of her black and white TV to make it stop running while watching World Wide Wrestling.   It was Grandma we would go to for comfort and a band aid when hurt or sad.  It was Grandma’s bed we would go to when we were scared in the night.   It was Grandma who tended to, and nurtured us, as we grew into young adulthood.

The end of Grandma’s season came after we moved to California.  The yard was too little for a garden, and Grandma had a stroke.  Now it was our turn to take care of her, and we tried, until we could no longer care for her properly.  Our hearts broke as she cried like a young child that first week in the convalescent home.  She died when I was 17.

In the years after Grandma died, I attempted on a few occasions to plant sweet peas.  Once it was in a very small spot near the patio of the condo I rented while in college.  It was during this event that I fell in love with my husband.  He surprised me by bringing a watering can, a little spade, stakes, string and seeds so that I could attempt this endeavor.   I guess you could say more than peas sprouted from that garden.  I harvested and shared a good number of sweet peas one day that summer, with my sister Cindy, who was visiting me.  We cherished each pea as it came from the freshly picked pod, and recalled sweet memories of the garden and the grandma we held so dear.

Now I am raising girls at the young age of 40 something.  We also have attempted to grow sweet peas, some green beans and even carrots, in a container garden with some success.  My girls have heard many stories about their Great Grandma’s garden and how much I loved her and sweet peas still.  Luckily we have been blessed by dear friends who “live off the grid” and have a healthy working garden in order to sustain the family in their remote location.  It has become a tradition each summer that we drive out to their house and spend the day working in the garden, picking all the wonderful vegetables we desire.  The girls collect eggs from the chickens and we all spend time in my friend’s kitchen cooking a wonderful, garden fresh dinner.  We leave with the gifts of fresh veggies, full stomachs and good friendship.   As I leave, I am also brought back in time to be reminded of a Grandma I loved, and the garden she grew.

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