My grandfather is a gardener, nurturing plants and the souls around him. His uniform for as long as I can remember: a chambray button down, tucked into his medium wash denim jeans, work boots, and a sun hat or a Franklin Electric Co. hat. He wore an undershirt, always. Inside the pocket of his jeans: his Case pocket knife and a handkerchief. Inside the pocket of his chambray button down: a tube of ChapStick (original scent), his pipe, a lighter, and tobacco. I never understood why he would wear long sleeves and jeans when it was over 100 degrees outside, but he said that it kept him cool. The shirt would make him sweat, and even the slightest breeze would blow through his shirt, cooling him. I know that he’s right, because I’ve tested it on myself.
I would walk out to his garden with him, and I distinctly remember the way the dry soil felt under my feet, soft from the tilling. I can’t compare it to anything. It’s an experience of its own. I remember that I hated the ants, and picking the vegetables meant that I often pricked my fingers- which he didn’t want. He made me feel like I was helping by holding the bucket, or at least standing by it when it got too heavy to hold. I would spend hours with him, shelling and snapping peas and sifting through them for any duds before we dumped them into a pot.
His years of gardening are over, and it’s horribly depressing for any of us to acknowledge, but it’s a fact. It’s a fact that he will never walk again, and I’d never say that to him, even though he knows it. But, I’m holding on to every single, teensy moment with him, and trying my damnedest to recall every memory of him that I have. I want to sit him down and ask him thousands of questions and record his responses, so that I’ll always know. I’ve always wanted to know every single thing about him, but I’m running out of time now. I want to know what he liked on his pizza, when he could have it. I want to know what his favorite shampoo is, and whether or not he has ever owned a musical instrument. I want to know what age he began drawing, and what he remembers about his mother and her sense of humor. I want to know what his ideal day would consist of, and if he ever took peanut butter sandwiches for lunch as a lineman. I want to know everything there is to know, and there’s so much of it that I don’t want to ask because I don’t want to force him to think about things he can’t have, and things he used to enjoy. But, I want to know it all. I thought I knew a lot about him, but can anyone actually know a lot about a person? There’s so much to know. People grow and change daily. My favorite dessert is now caramel apple pie. It used to be chocolate covered strawberries, before that, cherry pie, and before that it was vanilla cupcakes with strawberry frosting and sprinkles. It’s not enough to know someone’s favorite everything. What about their relationships with the people that they know and love? What about what they were like when they were nine? What about their favorite pair of tennis shoes when they were little? What about their opinions on sweet gherkins? What about their best friend and what that relationship gives them? These are seemingly small things, but they are important, and part of what makes us who we are.
So, I urge you. Ask your people questions while they can still answer them. Call your grandparents, and your parents and ask them anything you want to know. Ask, and listen, and ask more.
The only things still growing at my grandparents’ house are my grandfather’s roses and some irises blooming down by where his garden used to be. I took a stroll through his roses for the first time in ages, and felt my spirit lift. He always spent so much time tending to these roses, and now, even without him touching them, they are doing exactly as he always told them to.
He and my mom told the story of this cactus. It sits in a pot, growing wildly amidst his roses. I never even knew it was there, neither did my brother. My mom had forgotten it. My grandfather knew what I was talking about the second I mentioned it. I came up from the roses and said, “Did you know you have a cactus down there!?” He responded with, “yeah, did it have that yellow flower on it?”. He said that it’s over twenty years old, and my mom said that years ago, it was thrown outside because he was worried that all of us little ones would prick our fingers on it. One day years later, he found it growing in the brush and replanted it. My mom remembers him saying, “anything that wants to live that bad, ought to be allowed to.”
And by that logic, he ought to be allowed to live, too.