Wednesday, April 27, 2011

She’s a rebel

Picking rhubarb, last summer, at the old homestead

My grandfather died this morning, so on Friday I’m headed back to Grand Rapids to be with my family. Just when the snow is off the ground and the mosquitoes beginning to buzz above the pond. Just when the horse manure is shoveled in the garden. Just when I’m beginning to feel like I’ve come home.

But it’s all right. My grandfather was 92, and I find myself thinking of him more and more, the more deeply I get my hands dug into the earth. He was the one who woke up every morning at four to milk the cows in the Michigan winter, the one who took his award-winning smooth-skinned potatoes to the agricultural fair in Chicago, the one who always had the biggest tomatoes from his garden. He retired young, and spent the last years of his life pouring himself into carpentry, the Bible, and the half-acre of dirt behind his home.

My grandfather and grandmother are lions in my memory, inspirations. We would tell stories about them, shaking our heads in simultaneous awe and disgust. How they didn’t have garbage pickup for forty years, how even meat scraps went in the compost, so my grandpa had to keep away the raccoons with a .22. But every summer we ate up the rhubarb pies, the raspberries on vanilla ice cream.

My dad tells a story of how my grandfather would eat an entire row of lettuce in one sitting. Cut the whole thing, put it in a big bowl, sprinkle it with some vinegar and salt, and wolf it. I find myself thinking of all these questions I wish I could ask him now—what kind of lettuce? How did he start his seeds? Is it okay to plant when it’s wet out? What dirt did he use? What tools?

Why is it that we never think of the important questions to ask until too late? I want my own lettuce, some year when I can spend May digging my hands into my own dirt.


Karissa said...

I am so sorry about your grandfather's passing. I love the stories!

Melissa said...

Thank you, Karissa, and glad you love the stories! I have more to come--we keep digging up amazing photographs and stories not just of my grandparents but of their grandparents. I wish I could write a story for each branch of the tree.