My grandmother died on December 27th, 2019. As I reminisced about her during my sudden absence from blog world, I thought about her garden.
“Come down and get you some squash.”
“Come down and get you a mess of beans.”
“Come down and get some of these tomatoes—I got too many.”
I’m willing to bet most of my relatives have heard these words coming over the phone from my grandmother, Ruth. They were utterances of a joyful labor, of a work that brought great gifts and symbolized an even greater love. She grew so many vegetables and fruits, and I don’t think there was a gardening method she hadn’t tried, tested, and judged. I remember looking forward to our own summer corn just to get some of that delicious Peaches n’ Cream variety a week or two early from her. I remember the size of the beans she grew, and some of those enormous tomatoes weighed so heavy on the vine until ripe.
As Jesus said,
3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
The parable speaks of a grain growing on its own, but Mamaw knew something more about how plants worked, and her example shows the truth behind these verses. My grandmother was something special because she prepared the ground to be good. It’s almost never enough to just let it fall where it may and hope for the best, and she knew this moreso than anyone.
Where her seed and plantlings would go, she cleared the way, made sure there was a loamy surface with plenty of fertilizer. Where there was thirsty ground during a drought season, she was prepared with a water hose or a bucket. I remember the relative success of her garden in that scorching summer of 2002, when it barely rained at all during the dog days. I remember the ever-constant battle against deer and squirrels, how she’d even collect human hair from a salon and strew it about to scare off the menaces. She’d prune the suckers off tomatoes, cut out the unyielding pieces and tend the good branches.
Mamaw knew how to tend a garden. She knew how to make the way for her plants, knew how to create the good soil rather than expect it to just be there or expect the field to remain suitable throughout tyhe growing season.
If you know a good person and a Christian by their fruits, then her works make it obvious. Her garden alone was a significant labor and a source of her charity. She may have been quiet, sometimes she may not have said the right thing, but these were just words and that wasn’t how she showed love anyway. She showed it through a basket of squash, through a full stomach, through hard work.
And so she also prepared the soil for other fruit. I’m the second youngest of her grandchildren (my brother is the youngest), so I unfortunately knew her for the shortest time. But this also meant she’d had the time to create a fertile soil for me to grow. I saw it yesterday with all my cousins, of which there are many, how much her influence has carried through generations. She sang in the choir, enjoyed my efforts at Amazing Grace (lord how I cried when we sang that at the funeral), and planted in all of us a love of Christ.
6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
There were children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren all present yesterday, most (if not all) of them believers. How can the soil she prepared not have been fertile? For her ways to pass down through so many generations, to be known and cherished and followed? She gave so much to see them all grow, to bring forth fruit and to grow in ways someone of her generation could not imagine. Through a birth in the twenties, obvious privations during the Depression, hard times during the war, sons who were coming of age dangerously close to the Vietnam draft, and quickly changing technology as time passed, she practiced values such as thrift and perseverance. She remained a steadfast constant despite all the clutter.
She produced children who valued work, craftsmanship, and charity. Those children brought forth more who followed in those footsteps, and impressed upon them new values like education in addition to those she espoused. Those grandchildren, of which I am one, have done much to further her goals and pile upon her glories and lauds. The great-grandchildren, too, will remember these things and aim for successes and fruits which she never had the ability or resources to get for herself.
And, most importantly, they will remember the life she lived, the garden she grew, the soil she tended for them. Those who are yet to come may not see her efforts, but they will be there, fertile and deep beneath their roots.
People who read this will probably know my familial relationships have been strained, but God knows she meant a lot more than as just a person who gave me food. I hadn’t left her on a bad note, but her advanced age kept her in a pocket of the world I didn’t want to tread for several years. Still, I remember some things that I alone could share with her; one which people will chuckle at was that she, *she* alone stoked in me a fascination with American presidents. When I was young, she gave me a poster and told me that I “needed to know my presidents.” It had all their pictures, the dates of the presidencies, and then a list of facts such as vice presidents and first ladies. I absolutely loved this poster, and I read about these people in the encyclopedia. Granted, my obsession with Jackson came later, but I doubt that essential quality of me would have been so vivid without her. She valued knowledge more than she let on, and she knew what she wanted other people to learn if only they would listen to her acts moreso than her words.
For now, I must cry and know that I can’t see her anymore. She may be gone from here, but I remember her, and I hope to tend those fruits of thrift, perseverance, and charity. I hope that her garden continues to bloom and bear.
And I know it will because Christ spoke,
15 1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
And what an incredible thought. Since she abided in Jesus, and thus in God, she’s now working with the greatest gardener of all.
The photo was taken by me at the dinner following my grandmother’s viewing and funeral. I took the picture so I could show my brother, who wasn’t able to come, the quality of the flowers we’d bought for a true Southern lady’s funeral. It was amazing how everyone imagined her as spring and chose flowers to match that despite her fall birthday, November wedding, and cold, Christmas death.
Mamaw Ruth was my father’s mother, and I’ve spoken about her here on WordPress before, but not in detail. She was a complex person, and not even this (which is a Facebook post I made but then cleansed of too much identifying information) is a good representation.
Y’all blogging weirdos can expect a surprise Southern Gothic month coming up. I’m not feeling cheerful.