My grandmother was an avid gardener. I always knew it, but by the time I came around her ability to maintain a garden had waned. Some of my earliest memories are of her garden. The first time I tasted (and was subsequently repulsed by) a cherry tomato was in her backyard. I remember kneeling next to her bed of green beans and her showing me which ones to pick. I remember standing next to her bed of irises and admiring how pretty they were.
She broke her hip when I was three or so. I don’t remember any gardens after that. All of her hobbies – knitting, sewing, gardening, cooking – faded away after that. The only hobby I remember her maintaining until the end was crosswords. I was a kid and while I knew she had these hobbies and talked to her about them some, I didn’t know what questions to ask. Or even to ask questions.
My parents are moving and downsizing. My dad has boxes and boxes of old files. A lot of them are absolutely ridiculous – his taxes from 1976, the hospital bills from my birth, printed Mapquest maps from 2006, records of a church we haven’t attended in 20 years and a place we haven’t lived for a decade. But I did find a file entitled ‘Memories’ that contained letters from my grandmother to my parents during the 70s and 80s.
My grandmother was a letter writer, you see. We exchanged letters for a time when I was in third grade, though I doubt I kept many of them. But my dad is an archiver, a hoarder of information. And so I had the opportunity to read a stack of letters from my grandmother.
She grew apples and peaches, blackberries and tomatoes and cabbage. She cited varieties by name and in a few cases, compared varieties. She talked about the weather and how it impacted the garden. She mentioned shooting squirrels. She cracked jokes.
Probably because my childhood coincided with her failing health and inability to do all of the hobbies she mentioned enjoying in her letters, I never saw this side of her. She was the grandparent I spent the most time with, even though she was my first grandparent to pass. Seeing these letters gave me insight into her that I never had before, and also has provided inspiration for my own garden.