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Gardens, Stones, and my Grandmother

May 29, 2012

A corner of my rock garden on top of the barn wall.

I’ve been thinking of my grandmother often these days. She was just plain “Grandma” to me –if I can call “plain” a lovely woman whose every-day uniform –at least on the Saturday mornings I visited –was a dress, apron, hose, sturdy heels and accessories that ran toward strung-bead necklaces and button earrings.

I haven’t visited my Grandma’s house in 33 years. But a bedtime-story request from Mercy several weeks ago sent me back to her wide front porch where the door shut with a spring-loaded ‘snap’  and lilacs brushed the screens, scenting the air where my sister and I rocked the glider swing and rolled on the hassock while, in the kitchen (I think) my mother and Grandma (her mother in law) visited over the china cups of that mysterious drink called “coffee” that bubbled up in the glass dome on the pot, smelling so wonderful, but tasting so bad.

We weren’t banished to the porch. Rather, my sister and I shared the first seating at grandma’s cloth-spread kitchen table where she treated us to ice cream in fancy glass dishes and a pressed glass plate of her trademark sugar cookies. When we could eat no more, the two of us headed to the porch and rocked away our fullness just like the grown ups after thanksgiving dinner.

When we’d had our fill of rocking, my little sister and I ran to grandma’s side yard and rolled down the hill for the thrill of it. We’d run up, roll down, over and over again until we were so dizzy we could only lay on our backs on the grass at the bottom, watching the squirrels dance  on the telephone wires above us. When I turned my head, I was eye-to-eye with the lady bugs and ants cruising the shadows at the base of the tomatoes and zinnias and the tiny orange balloon flowers my mom called “Chinese lanterns.”

When we grew older and a little more brave, my sister and I walked Rosy –another of grandma’s gardens –like a balance beam. I can’t recall now if  “brave” comes to mind because it was forbidden to walk on top of the stone wall that ringed Rosy, or if more simply we felt brave because Rosy seemed so high. I suppose, now, that Rosy was, perhaps, only two feet tall. But when my sister and were perhaps only three feet tall, Rosy’s perfect circular race track of stacked fieldstone was a marvel second only to our courage in conquering her walls.

I was thinking of grandma tonight, digging in my own garden, thinking I should plant some bleeding heart in this corner by the stone wall. Grandma was Catholic and she must have told me the legend of that flower because I immediately thought of the statue of the Blessed Virgin in her blue robe standing protected in her little wooden shrine in another corner of Grandma’s garden.

My mind skipped to the identical Blessed Virgin in our own yard, on a short hill so steep that when I was three and four and brought her flowers, the blossoms were crushed in the climb and looked like cake sprinkles strewn on the robe at her feet. A mental skid down the hill  in the backyard of my childhood home took me to my mother’s rock garden and I remembered climbing up onto the sun-warmed rocks to crack open a Chinese lantern and count its seeds.

Until tonight, it hadn’t occurred to me that the bleeding heart and Chinese lanterns in my mother’s garden probably came from my grandmother’s. That I’m the third generation of women in my family who construct gardens with stones strategically placed to invite children to clamber in and play.

Then I was startled to hear Grandma’s voice in my mind a long stretch of childhood later, the same year she sold her house. Sometime in the spring of my sixth grade  year I ate Neapolitan ice cream and sugar cookies at her kitchen table, telling her the news: how I’d gotten to sit at the council table at City Hall and shake hands with the mayor who handed me a certificate for winning an essay contest about citizenship. (Second place I think, because I remember the ribbon was red.)

Grandma offered me another one of her sugar cookies as she cleared my ice cream dish to the sink.  Her heels clacked across the linoleum floor as she tossed back casually over her shoulder, “You know, you’re going to write a book someday.”

Tonight, as I finished settling a stepping stone  into a gap in my garden, I finally understood why, when my friends on the Pond Dakota board asked me if they could host a book release party and asked,”What should we serve?” I blurted out, “I’m making my grandma’s sugar cookies.”

“You can’t bake for your own party!” they protested.

I had no idea where the sugar cookie idea came from and offered the first good reason to mind. “But it is an old-fashioned recipe! Agnes might have served something like this to company!” (The party will be at the 1856 home of missionaries Gideon and Agnes Pond in Bloomington.)

Sitting there on a warm rock in my garden tonight I realized Grandma would have baked cookies for the party if she had lived to be 102 instead of 97. So I will bake cookies for my guests to honor my grandmother, who knew I’d write a book three decades before I did.

And I will dig rocks  into my garden for the fourth generation of  little girls who will grow up to plant beauty among stones.

Newly planted poppies in my garden like those my mother grew.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Nancy Reber permalink
    May 29, 2012 6:07 pm

    Your grandma would be so proud…..as we are!

  2. May 29, 2012 6:31 pm

    True… she would be happy knowing that you are what she predicted… a writer.
    So best of luck with that 🙂

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