Friday, March 7, 2008

Childhood Garden Memories

February 16, 2008

Today, I am embarking on a mission. Inspired by Alison May’s blog today, I am going to give provenance to my children, and my children’s children. I don’t think I will even try to define where I am going, because I think random musings will work better for me, given my rather random nature, anyway.

I will begin with violets. Why I love them. I love all of the flowers that I remember from my childhood. I don’t remember why they mean so much, but they do. I need to grow, in my own garden, anything that brings memories of my Mother’s Garden or my Grandmothers’. I can’t explain it, I just need to. I suppose I remember every flower shrub and tree with which I had a personal relationship, in each one of their gardens from my very early childhood. From the apartments that we lived in before Steve was born (when I was 3½), to Grandma Cole’s mint that she grew under her kitchen window, and Grandma New’s Snowball bush, and raspberries and giant onion stalks in her vegetable garden. Maybe my childhood was spent in gardens, because I remember gardens that have no particular person attached to them. I remember sucking on Four O’Clocks and climbing the giant fig tree at Grandma Cole’s. In writing this, I am just flooded with memories of eating Grandma New’s peaches right off the tree, and a funeral reception, I think, when with the other children; I ate the most delicious plums I have ever tasted to this day, in somebody’s back yard orchard.

My Mother’s first garden, in the first house she owned, had violets growing next to the back step outside the kitchen door. That’s all. They were beautiful, and I loved them. I yearned for just such violets, until I was finally able to procure a few sets of my own. A child’s mind once imprinted with something delicious and wonderful, I think, will retain it always. I think it was there that I established my first clear definition of beauty, and it was partly that violet patch. It was my Mother, too, and the way she wore her hair, and our lawn, when it really needed to be mown. I loved the blades of grass when they were just a little floppy. It was the perfect place for my imagination to hide miniature thoughts and dreams. Yes, it was just perfect.

Grandma New had violets, too. I don’t remember where they grew, but the violets in my own backyard are the progeny of the violets that she brought out from Oklahoma many, many, many years ago. I have the story written down someplace, about how Grandma got them, and where they came from before that. I remember they were growing beside a pig pen. I will include it here, eventually.

The violets in my front yard are a gift from my Father in Law, Bill Thompson. They started their history, as far as I know, in his garden in Auburn.

Along the back fence, my Mother grew roses. They were beautiful and smelled like strawberries. We used to catch the bees in canning jars as they collected the pollen from the roses. Warm summer smells come back to me. The sounds. You can’t tell how long I hesitate between sentences to savor the childish memories. I used to stand on the edge of our bath tub and tiptoe to peer out the really high, really tiny window to see if I could spot the birds that I heard singing their morning greetings outside. There was an almond orchard directly beyond our back fence, and the blossoms, and the robins! Dear, dear. How I loved the robins. And ivy grew on our fence, outside my bedroom window, but I don’t know if it was ours, or an escapee from Mrs. --------‘s garden.

Next door, on the other side, Mr. and Mrs. Ivey lived with their two sons, Joel and Michael. Mrs. Ivey had a king sized flower bed full of pansies. One day, when Brian was ‘pumping’ me on his bicycle, and we fell and skinned my knee rather badly, Mrs. Ivey scooped me up, delivered me inside to my Mother, and then she brought over a pansy dish, just brimming with her beautiful pansies. It was a donut shaped bowl, short, shallow, with circular openings in which to place the lovely short stemmed little blooms. I remember that it had hand painted pansies on it. I have adored pansies since that very day, and have spent a goodly amount of time searching for a pansy vase just like hers.

The Ivey’s were Dunkard (German Baptist), and overall, a little older than our family. Mr. Ivey was a seventh grade teacher, and once held my cousin Ricky, upside down and whacked him on his back, when he gagged on a chocolate covered grasshopper that somebody gave him. Dunkard ladies are supposed to wear their hair in a bun, under a pretty, gauzy, little ‘cover’. If I recall correctly, they are not supposed to cut their hair. On a really rare occasion, I would catch a glimpse of Mrs. Ivey with her hair unfurled. She had the most beautiful, thick, shiny, chestnut hair, down to below her waist. I don’t know about Joel, but Michael grew up to be a kind of famous entomologist. Mr. and Mrs. Ivey divorced, and he became a real estate agent. I still can’t rectify that.

In our front yard, Mom had a very modern, rock garden, and she grew cacti in it. The only plant that she grew there, whose name I remember, was the Hen and Chicks. That, and the rocks made for a very hospitable environment for blue belly lizards, much to my brothers’ delight.

For a time, we had a baby Japanese Umbrella tree in the small side yard, in front, beside the driveway. It grew between our house, and the Ivey’s. I used to lie on the lawn under that little tree for hours and hours, and daydream, and watch for shapes in the clouds. I remember hanging a ‘clothesline’ in the tree, and pinning my dolls’ clothes to it to ‘dry’ in the breeze, just like my Mommy did in our backyard. A wind storm blew the pretty little tree over.

Grandma and Grandpa Cole’s house had a really big yard, with two spiked “black walnut” trees, standing sentinel over her front walk. I loved that from a distance, you could tell where their house was, because you could see those trees above all the others.
She grew Four O’Clocks next to her front steps. We would pull the little trumpet shaped flowers off of their stems, and pretend to blow them. They tasted like nectar. Grandma also grew mint, directly under her kitchen window. I never knew, or for that matter, wondered why, but years later, in my adulthood, I learned that ants won’t bother mint, and that it is a time honored custom, to plant it anywhere that you have trouble with ants. In my case, though, I discovered that the mint is a pest in its own right, and it pretty much took over the flower bed under my kitchen window. Now, when I grow it, I keep it contained in a pot.

I have three rosebushes that were my Grandma Cole’s. Mom started them from cuttings, before Grandma replaced them. They are all miniature roses. All very old fashioned roses, one is thorn less and a deep coral, and grows like a cabbage. One is a lovely soft pink, covered in thorns, a think petaled bud that fades to nearly white in the full sun of summer. The third is a perfect miniature deep red rose, that is also thorn less, and therefore I planted it beside the swimming pool, where it will neither puncture inflatable toys that find their ways into its branches, nor will it tear bare skin, if a swimmer should inadvertently brush into the bush.

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