Grandmother’s Gardens - Short Story - Ficton
Grandmother’s flower gardens were well known throughout the county
Grandmother’s flower gardens were well known throughout the county. People would walk, or drive by just to enjoy their beauty.
At a remarkably young age, I wanted to help Grandmother in her gardens. This thrilled her, as Mother had never had any interest in such things. As a child, Mother loathed getting dirty. As an adult, she was too busy with her real estate business.
In early spring, Grandmother would dress me in my warmest clothes to go out to the gardens. She loaded rich black loam, from the compost pile, into her wheelbarrow. I followed her closely along flagstone paths, which wove through the gardens, as she broke up the hard ground and mixed in the rich compost soil. After the gardens had been prepared, seeds and fresh cuttings were planted just where Grandmother knew they belonged.
We visited the gardens each day, Grandmother examining the beds with a sharp eye. If a rock or weed were spotted, they were removed from the pristine beds. I watched her every move, carefully learning how to identify weeds from tender flower shoots.
Each season brought new life to the gardens. Early spring brought pastel blooms that welcomed the warm sun. As these flowers began to fade, dogwoods and magnolias clothed themselves in abundant flowers and aromas. Hyacinths added their colors as the primrose shone like jewels in the garden.
Warmer days welcomed colorful irises and impatiens. Freesia and heather filled the beds as honeysuckle beckoned the buzzing bees to taste their sweet nectar. Evening fireflies darted through the gardens as the sun faded into dusk.
The dog days of summer brought colorful butterflies that I loved to chase from one garden to the next. Their bright colored wings winked at me as they fluttered by. I felt as if I could fly with them as I twirled and chased them on tiptoe.
Mother was furious when she came home. My clothes were soiled, and I was covered in mud.
“She looks like a ninny jumping around out there. She’s too old to run around like a wild child. Look at her. She’s filthy with mud caked under her fingernails. She needs to start acting like a lady.” Mother scolded.
I loved the garden; the feel of dirt on my hands and the smell of fresh turned earth. It smelled alive, and I knew it was. Watching the bulbs push their way up through its richness, and seeds burst forth with flowers; I observed how cuttings flourished and grew and saw the gardens come to life.
Grandmother, seeing my crest fallen countenance, broached the subject with mother. Reluctantly, she agreed to a compromise. I endured ballet classes and piano lessons to instill positive lady-like behavior, and limited time in the gardens. This seemed to satisfy Mother.
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The days with her went by too fast
As the years passed, I learned to enjoy music and dance, but what I truly loved, was crosspollination, plant grafting, and creating hybrid flowers.
I read everything I could find on the subject, sharing what I learned with Grandmother. Her desire was to create a deep purple rose, and we made that our special project.
The time grew closer to think about college. Mother was determined I would attend the local junior college. She pressed the idea of a business degree, which she felt would provide a wide range of opportunities. A business degree was the last thing I wanted. Actually, I wanted to attend State University, and study horticulture.
“Horticulture?” Mother shrieked. “What kind of job do you think you could get with a degree in horticulture, and where would I get the money for you to go to State University?”
She paced across the floor, as Grandmother and I sat silently on the couch, like children in trouble. Grandmother cleared her throat and stood up.
“She has the grades, and the brains, to get a scholarship. What that won’t cover, I will.” she stated firmly.
Mother turned on her heals. “And just where do you think she will find a job around here with a degree in -- gardening?” she asked, with as much fire in her eyes as in her voice.
“What makes you think she wants to find a job around here? There is a whole world out there for her to explore. She doesn’t have to stay here and turn into a sour old maid.”
The look on Mother’s face was filled with rage, but her eyes were filled with anguish. The issue was never brought up again, at least within my hearing.
The next fall I attended State, filled with joy and enthusiasm. The classes were challenging, but I immersed myself, determined to attain high marks. Time flew by, and before I knew it, I was home for the summer.
I spent those months working part time in Mother’s real estate agency, and, as often as possible, in Grandmother’s gardens. I shared everything I had learned about cross pollination, and was thrilled at how much closer we were to achieving our deep purple rose. She was excited and more determined than ever. The days with her went by too fast, and soon it was time to return to school.
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The next two years continued to challenge me. I wrote Grandmother weekly, sharing new ideas and techniques. She responded with equal passion and news of her successes and failures.
A week’s visit, after my junior year, was all I could afford. I had been accepted into a work-study program at the Smithsonian Botanical Gardens, in Washington D. C.
I would miss my days in the gardens with Grandmother, but she encouraged me to go, promising to continue working on our project.
My senior year started with high expectations, and a gnawing heaviness that clung to my heart. Each week, it grew stronger until the time Mother called me with news that Grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer.
I was at her bedside in a matter of hours, all thoughts of school vanished. I promised I would not leave her, but she spoke as firmly as she ever had.
“You are going back to school. I promise I will fight this and I will be at your graduation.”
Returning was difficult. I could barely keep my mind on my classes. I braced for the worst whenever I called home, but Grandmother sounded well. She had even spent some time in her gardens, much to Mother’s chagrin.
The months passed, and Grandmother assured me she was fine. Mother wasn’t as convincing.
I ached to go home, but research papers and finals made it impossible. On graduation day, I was shocked when Mother pushed Grandmother into the auditorium in a wheelchair. Her body was shriveled, pain etched into her face as she struggled to smile.
My heart ached and tears stung my eyes. Graduation was bitter sweet, but I knew Grandmother would never have missed it.
I stayed at her bedside as each day she became weaker; the cancer ravaging her body. Mother dealt with the situation by working. She excused herself with the costs of treatments and Hospice care, but I knew there was no financial burden on Mother. She just couldn’t watch as Grandmother slowly slipped away.
While the Hospice staff cared for Grandmother, I spent time working in the garden. It was the only relief I had. The feel of the dirt and the scent of flowers in bloom, reassured me that life continued, despite being surrounded by death.
My breath caught
One morning I went to check on our special project ; the rose bushes we hoped would produce purple roses. My breath caught as I saw, not one, but the entire bush covered with beautiful purple roses. I cut one of the beautiful blooms and removed its thorns, excited to show it to Grandmother. As I neared the house, one of the Hospice nurses met me at the door.
“You need to come quickly,” she said, “I’ve just called your mother.”
Her voice was tender, but I saw the pain in her eyes. I ran to Grandmother’s bed. She was unaware, and her breathing labored. I held out the flower like a young child.
“Grandmother,” I choked. “We did it; we made purple roses!”
To everyone’s surprise, she opened her eyes and looked at me. She reached out and took the rose pulling it to her nose. After inhaling its fragrance, she smiled and whispered, “Yes, we did it.”
She clutched the rose and closed her eyes, a faint smile on her lips. Once more her breathing became labored, but only for a short time. She took one last breath, and the room was quiet.
I laid my head on her bed and wept. My patron saint of the garden was gone. She taught me to love the garden, and gave me the desire and opportunity to learn far more than she could have taught me.
At the cemetery, my heart was comforted by the beautifully arranged floral blanket atop the heavy oak coffin, adorned with purple roses, from Grandmother’s garden.
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