Rocks and Restoration

Rocks and Restoration

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

Rocks and Restoration

Pleasure is the flower that fades; remembrance is the lasting perfume.

Stanislas Jean de Marquis Boufflers

I slowly got out of the car at the end of a long, discouraging day. The February sky was gray to match my mood as I walked down our driveway to retrieve the mail. I looked at the neglected flowerbeds in our front yard. Busy with other pursuits, I hadn’t planted any spring bulbs, mulched around the Japanese maple or cut back the English ivy, which threatened to choke out everything in its path.

As I approached the house, I reached down to move a large rock from a raised flowerbed. It hadn’t hurt anything in the weedy spot, but there was something familiar about the rock itself. I smoothed the dirt off of its dimpled surface; then I recognized it. It had belonged to my grandmother, Essie May Brown, and I had claimed it from one of the rock borders she’d fashioned around the flowerbeds in her backyard. Holding that rock took me right back to the 1950s, to Grandma’s garden on West Shadowlawn Avenue in north Atlanta.

“Why do you have so many flowers, Grandma?” I wiped the perspiration from my forehead, getting dirt on my face and in my curly red hair. At age four, I wasn’t worried about a little dirt. Grandma smiled contentedly as she looked around her. “Flowers are my life,” she said. “When I sit on the sewin’ room floor hemmin’ up a dress for Mrs. Alston or one of those purty young debs I sew for, I think about bein’ out here in my garden, with all of God’s beautiful flowers . . . and with you, my sweet man.”

“I’m not a man, Grandma. I’m a girl,” I grumbled, but I grinned up at her. She always called me that. Nobody in the family ever knew why she chose to call me her sweet man or “Luke,” her other pet name for me (she hardly ever called me “Kathleen” unless she was reprimanding me), but I didn’t really mind.

I spent a lot of time at Grandma’s house while Mom accompanied Dad on frequent business trips, and Grandma and I were the closest of buddies. Grandma made everything seem like an adventure, from picking up pins in the sewing room to planting bulbs, as we were doing that day.

“Don’t drop this’n on his head,” she warned. “Dig him a little hole here—oh, that’s a good’n. Now put him right there, and point his little head up so he can poke it out to the sun. Now don’t cover him up too much. . . . That’s right, maybe a little dab more. Let’s give ’im some water now, he’s thirsty. Give him a right smart more so he can start to grow. That’s enough. He says, ‘Thank you, ma’am!’”

“Why do we have to be so careful with each one, Grandma?” I asked.

“Now, Luke,” Grandma said patiently, “God made rules for flowers just like he did for everything else. If you don’t follow his rules, you won’t grow any flowers. And if you put the bulbs in too far with their heads point’n’ down at the devil, they won’t ever see God’s purty sunshine.”

Most all of Grandma’s bulbs grew lavishly into the sunlight. In the spring, her backyard was a gardener’s dream. First the little white, yellow and purple crocuses unfurled their heads from green spiky leaves. Then came the nodding snowdrops, dainty snowflakes, sherbet-colored daffodils and narcissi, bold Dutch tulips whose bulbs had been special-ordered from Breck’s, and yellow clouds of forsythia. Easter time would bring a snowstorm of pink and white dogwood blossoms, with elegant, lacy, white, pink and lavender hyacinths underneath. Irises would bloom later, like the pink Mobile azaleas whose tight buds were already swelling the bushes. In summer, big hydrangea bushes reared their blue and lavender mop heads, with fragrant climbing roses in the background. Lush, green, grassy paths were prone to invading violets, the one weed Grandma tolerated. She loved the violets’ miniature purple and white faces, and admired their hardiness.

“Don’t worry about him,” she’d say. “You can step on ‘im and he’ll spring right back up!”

A charming white picket fence surrounded it all, like a frame around a lovely picture. And in the very center of the garden, a giant old pecan tree full of chattering squirrels and birds rose majestically, sprouting green leaf-buds, with a beautiful raised flowerbed at its base. A rock-border necklace encircled it with old-fashioned pansies, their cheerful faces upturned, peeking from its crevices. It was truly a paradise for a little girl who learned many of life’s important lessons digging bulbs with her grandma.

I held a rock from that border now, forty-three years later. I’d taken it from Grandma’s garden when the house was sold after her death in 1992. The new owners mowed everything down, tore down the old picket fence and installed a chain-link enclosure for their Doberman. Only the old pecan tree and the memories remain.

Well, I thought, that’s not really all that’s left. Grandma’s favorite gifts to her family were, of course, flowers. Grandma gave me a Woburn Abbey rose bush that still out-blooms everything on our street.

I gently placed the old rock at the edge of my flowerbed and pulled up a weed. As I stood up I noticed something green under an overgrown holly. Pushing aside some pine straw, I instantly recognized the grass-like spikes: five mounds of Grandma’s Star of Bethlehem!

The tears came as I grabbed a trowel and gardening gloves, and gently weeded and mulched around these symbols of my heritage. Just then the sunshine broke through the clouds and shone down on Grandma’s flowers, still thriving after all this time. My grouchiness dissipated as I worked to restore the flowerbed, and my five-year-old son ran to hug me. “Whatcha doin’, Mom?” he asked.

“See those little plants, sweet man?” I said, brushing dirt off my son’s sweaty face. “Sit down here with me, and I’ll tell you all about a special gift. . . .”

Kathleen Craft Boehmig

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