It’s the summer solstice and my grandmother’s birthday. The connection seems absolutely right, though I know little about her. My mother told me stories of her love of nature. . . a gift passed down from generation to generation. Now, as I watch my son till and plant his garden I see the circle of life unfolding. I never knew my grandmother – she died before I was born – as did all of my grandparents except one: Granddad.
My grandfather, my mother’s father, lived with us all of my life. My first memory of Granddad was of him carrying me on his shoulders to the chicken coop. I was two. Granddad and the chicken coop were a thing. It was who he was around town. He raised chickens and sold the eggs to the local people for pocket change. That is, until we moved to Maine where there were no chicken coops. During the dark winter days he took to washing dishes and canning chairs. Occasionally, he watched over me while my mother was at a church function or a tea party. He fed me poached eggs with too much salt as I sat in front of the TV. I didn’t say a word. Granddad was hard of hearing and I didn’t like shouting at him. People did not hear me anyway. Silence was my modus operandi.
We moved again right before my ninth birthday. The weather was warmer in our new home further south, but still no chicken coop. Instead Granddad spent hours on his knees in the front yard, hunched over digging dandelions out of the grass with his pocket knife – in a white shirt and tie. It was what he wore every day. It was always Sunday in his world, and each morning began with the sound of his straight razor against the razor strop that hung from his bedroom door. Once in a while I’d sneak in to his room and watch him lather up his shaving brush and paint his face in great dobs of smooth white froth. I so wanted him to dob some on my face too!
Slender and almost 6 feet tall, Granddad was number eight in our family. He made us an even-numbered family. I don’t recall him ever being sick, except once when I was eleven. He was ninety-two. He laid in bed for two weeks with a mysterious illness. The doctor came and went and talked in a conspiratorial whisper with my mother in the kitchen. There was no discussion of what was wrong with Granddad except that he wasn’t feeling well.
One night a kerfuffle coming from his bedroom woke me up. Before I could decide whether or not to get up, I heard my mother’s feet scurrying down the hall. I lie in bed, beneath the safety of my covers, listening to the activity but discovering nothing about its cause. After a time the racket stopped and I drifted back to sleep. Over breakfast my mother told my Dad how Granddad thought the trash can was on fire. She had to take it into the bathroom and run the water to convince him that it wasn’t. The trash can wasn’t on fire at all, but Granddad’s imagination was!
Finally, after two weeks, he got up, got dressed in his white shirt and tie and stretched out on the couch in the living room. When I passed by on the way to the kitchen for breakfast he was fast asleep. I was encouraged. He was getting well at last. I poured my cereal as my mother washed the dishes. “Granddad’s up!” I said. “He’s dressed and napping on the couch!”.
“He’s not napping, dear,” she said. That afternoon the undertaker came and took him away. Family members always seemed to leave just as I arrived.