A Wealth of Summer Blooms in January

Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography

When I was a kid, my paternal grandparents came to stay with us almost every weekend. They didn’t live far – just an hour and a half away in Milwaukee – so their frequent visits were a mainstay in our weekend plans.

The frequency of their visits lent a sort of familiarity to their presence. Rather than guests, they were quasi-residents and all of us went about our business as usual. My dad would still go into the office on Sunday mornings to do payroll and other bookkeeping tasks. My mom would run her countless errands. My sister, brother, and I would go to swim practices and hang out with our friends. My grandpa would read the newspaper and smoke his pipe. And my grandma, regardless of the season, would garden.

Gardening, to her, was a year-round activity. At the first signs of Spring, the snow barely melted and the earth still a sodden mess, the weekly visits to Stein’s would begin for bulbs or fertilizer or a new spade. Summer, obviously, involved constant pruning and watering. Fall brought raking mounds of leaves that were then used to cover the beloved roses with a blanket of amber and crimson-colored, crackly foliage. And even in the Winter she was gardening, spending hours poring over the glossy pages of the new Jackson and Perkins catalogue – the gardener’s holy book, at least in our house.

There are many things that I have inherited from my grandma – her impatience, her outspokenness, her love of crossword puzzles and 500 Rummy, for instance – but her affection for gardening is not among them. I could never understand how she and my dad could spend so many hours tending to flower beds and gardens for something that yielded so little in return. Sure, the yard was absolutely gorgeous for two or three months of the year, but their efforts extended throughout all twelve months. And I could never understand why she would spend so many hours taking care of Summer’s flora when the ground was still swathed in frosty white snow. This was the time for sledding or cuddling up under a blanket with a good book, not the time for additional chores related to something that wouldn’t be achieved for months to come. To me, the investment just did not come close to yielding an adequate return.

But for my grandma, plants and flowers were her life. In fact, gardening is synonymous with my grandma. I cannot think of one without thinking of the other. She visibly came alive when her hands were stained brown, calloused and gritty. She tended to those flowers with an affection and warmth that she sometimes could not provide in her human relationships. My grandma led a full and often challenging life – raised poor in rural Pennsylvania, she moved to Milwaukee as a young woman, married my grandfather and raised six children, overcame an alcohol addiction, and learned to drive when she was in her 60s. Gardening was her escape; the dirt her savior; flowers her soul mates.

Maybe she loved plants and flowers because they didn’t judge or question or criticize. Maybe she connected with them because she found a spiritual connection through nature. Or perhaps she enjoyed gardening simply because it gave her hands something to do in order to quiet her mind. Whatever the reason, gardening was her world, her everything. It was her past, her present, and her future.

Psychologists, philosophers, writers, religious leaders, and spiritual sages alike – from Eckhart Tolle and Henry David Thoreau to Mahatma Gandhi and Buddha – tell us that in order to be happy we must live in the present. That we can’t dwell in an expired past, nor can we count on an unpredictable future. As Meister Eckhart said, “There exists only the present instant… a Now which always and without end is itself new. There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence.”

But maybe living in the present means occasionally spending some time remembering the past. Maybe to be at peace in the present, we need to sometimes spend a few moments honoring the past, albeit with truth and authenticity. Maybe to cultivate a stronger relationship with the now, we need to spend some time reminiscing about the people that occupy the pages of our past – like a strong, vibrant, and flawed woman named Stella who cussed like a truck driver and told dirty jokes, who walked on the beach in just a bra and pair of shorts as a stand-in swimsuit, who made apple dumplings that tasted like a hug. A woman named Stella who loved to garden.

And maybe living in the present means that we need to spend a little time hoping for a brighter and warmer future. Maybe in order to more fully enjoy today, we sometimes need to daydream and fantasize about tomorrow, about summer rains and dazzling sunsets. And perhaps in order to really come alive in the now, we occasionally need to tend to June’s vibrant, blooming flowers on a cold January morning.

My grandma and my younger brother gardening, circa 1985

What memories of the past bring you peace in the present? What hopes and plans for the future allow you to come alive in the now?

This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge.  Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for her fabulous photos.  Make sure to visit her website or facebook page.

I am linking up again with Yeah Write, which features bloggers who write and writers who blog. Each week a number of talented writers showcase their work on the grid. You can return to vote for your favorites on Thursday.

 

 

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42 Comments

  • I can identify with your grandmother’s love of the outdoors and growing things. I now have a vegtable garden rather than flower but I love to be outside digging in the dirt. Much more pleasant than being stuck inside doing laundry or cleaning the bathroom. Don’t ever examine my bathroom too closely but I’d love to show you much garden.

    • I really wish I liked to garden. I tried to grow some beans and peas last summer and it was a disaster. Well, it was partially due to my dogs eating them, but still.

  • this was all kinds of beautiful. my Oma *loved* to garden as well. when she and my grandfather built their home many moons ago, it included a HUGE backyard which was the largest home garden i’d ever seen. she’d spend hours upon hours in that garden every single day. it was her life. i was so pissed at my brother when he destroyed it after he bought their home from them when they moved back to their homeland. so pissed. (my grandfather passed 7 years ago, my grandmother will be joining him shortly i believe…)

    the past several years i’ve lived my life in the Now. life is much more calm because of it. i stay away from horrid news stories that engulf the world around us; i’m very ignorant to a lot of things, i admit. but i’m much more calm and peaceful and …. happy because of it. so yes, i do think living in the Now is so very important, but, like you said, reflecting on our past- who and where we come from- helps us be happy with the Now…

    sorry for the ramble. thanks for the beautiful post.

  • I went through the seed catalogue between Thanksgiving and Christmas to pick out what I wanted to plant in our vegetable garden this year. Flowers? I suck at flowers. But I love the idea of growing as much produce as we can, love teaching my kids about plants and the earth and how we take care of things that sustain us. The actual act of gardening? Meh. But the results? Oh, yeah, baby!

  • We should live in the present with memories of the past to guide us. The sages tell us to live life without regret to the fullest extent. Sounds like your grandmother did exactly that. I like the image of her on that beach. I can fully understand her love of gardens. For me it’s growing food more than flowers. But this love came later for me. You never know when it might strike. One of my grandmothers was quite a vibrant character, and a bit flawed as well, but that only adds allure to her story. Apple dumplings that taste like a hug is a wonderful sentence!

  • oh my, it’s grandma week and i love it!
    i say yes, to remembering. our grandparents and our histories are all so vital to who we are. and although, i don’t get gardening either, i understand why people love to do it. it seems peaceful and so present. you’re busy, doing good earthy busy work. you’re living and breathing life. i don’t garden, but it could grow on me. lovely post.

  • The first thing that struck me was how lucky you were to have such a close extended family. My grandparents never stayed with us, but we saw them every week and took vacations together. As much as possible, I have tried to do the same with weekly visits and Sunday dinner at mom’s.

    Now the gardening – well that’s another story.

  • At first I thought that picture was you and your grandma, and I thought that was the most awesome haircut I had ever laid eyes on. And it still is, but it’s not yours. I love your thoughts about this, and I am curious about how to be present too. I want a spiritual connection to nature, but I don’t have it. Yet.

  • Another grandmother post on the grid, and beautiful. I wish I could enjoy gardening and get lost in digging in the dirt. But I just feel dirty and grimy and sore…and itchy. So I avoid it when I can.

  • I also wish gardening was something I enjoyed, but I just can’t get into it. My parents love spending hours outside toiling in the soil, but I think this particular affection skipped a generation. Now that we bought a house, I am hoping that maybe it will grow on us, because I love looking at beautiful gardens 🙂

  • This is lovely. A few random thoughts after reading your post:
    1. I love 500 Rummy. When we were dating, my husband and I kept a running total. I think we end up near 10,000 points. 10,000 Rummy?
    2. I love the connecting spiritually with the out of doors. There is something about the smell of rich soil that reminds me of the mortal and immortal all at once.
    3.Your grandma (and her name Stella) sound awesome.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • I love how you frame your thoughts and memories in this essay. Really beautiful writing and imagery. My father is also a consummate gardener and both my sisters inherited his connection to growing and nurturing nature. While I love the glorious results of all their hard work, I’ve never had any interest and like you, would rather curl up and read a good book. As for being present to the moment, I’m learning, but oh so slowly! Work in progress … Great post!

  • I too, wish I had a green thumb, but I kill even the hardiest of houseplants. Vegetation cowers at the sight of me. 🙂 Great story with lots of love thrown in.

  • Oh that picture is worth a thousand words! I LOVE it!

    I have also never really “got” gardening, although I really wish I could. Those who love it really seem to love it A LOT.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Vegetable gardens seem more manageable than flower gardens to me. Thought, sadly, my efforts at that also seem to fail.

  • My grandma was an avid gardener as well. Any interest I have in keeping plants alive I gained from her. In fact, I miss her the most when I’m trying to figure out how to keep my orchids alive, because my first thought at seeing their wilting stems is how I wish I could call her, ask about the orchids, then talk for another hour about nothing and everything.

  • I wish I loved gardening. I keep feeling like I should enjoy it more than I do, so I keep doggedly at it, thinking one day a spark will finally ignite and I’ll find passion in it. Not yet!

    Everyone should have a passion, though, and I’m glad your grandmother’s made such an impression on you, and such strong memories.

  • I love what you have to say about how living in the present does not preclude learning from the past or planning for the future. It’s so easy to conflate the idea of “living in the moment” with behaving like the grasshopper in the fable but it’s about so much more than that. Great post!

  • This was beautifully written. Your reflections were beautiful, and your imagery was even more impressive. You did such a great job of showing vs. telling, and you made me long for summer to come to smell the lilacs bloom and see the sweet peonies and hydrangeas in my backyard. That I was able to visualize such things while I read this really is the mark of a great bit of writing. I’m glad to have found you via yeah write. I look forward to reading more of your reflections. This was simply lovely. Thank you.

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