Lately, I have been thinking about my grandpa. I have been replaying an image in my head of something we did together while he was still alive. On some saturdays he would go an deliver meals to the elderly (which is strange because he could technically be considered elderly). The organization he did this with was meals on wheels. On some saturdays I would tag along, basically watching as he would hand over some food to a person who was old, tired and sick. He would talk too long, hug the stranger, smile broadly from some hidden place, and, did i mention he would talk too long. Well, I have come to love this about my Grandpa, he taught me how to serve. He taught me how to have little and give lots. My grandpa taught me how to care, he taught me that a gift is not in what you give, but how you give it. When he gave, he gave himself. That was all he had and that is what people got.
I was already tired and irritated. The damp soil that was seeping through my faded denim jeans rubbed my knees raw as I crawled around the garden. Dirt was crammed up underneath my fingernails and somehow smeared into the thin, shallow creases of my palms.
Grandpa was determined to teach me how to garden. When I was a little kid I took an interest in growing flowers and vegetables, but as I got older I basically stopped caring. My free time filled up with sports and friends. I couldn’t spend my Saturdays hunched over in the dirt, patiently planting tulips, watering hanging pots, or pruning roses.
When I graduated from High School I had a whole summer ahead of me, free of plans and sports and obligations. Unfortunately, I graduated lonely and depressed, in the middle of a difficult season of life. I didn’t want to spend the summer with friends or by going out. In all reality I couldn’t. I had just stopped wrestling, a sport that dramatically changed my body and the way I understood eating.
I was diagnosed earlier that school year with anorexia. The eating disorder had full control over me. I ate only certain foods, on a set time schedule, and of certain portions. If I was out with friends and it was time to eat, I would go home. If my friends went out for fast food, I would go home. My whole world revolved around eating.
I no longer felt like I was living, I no longer felt the presence of the moment, just the constant feeling of waiting.
But Grandpa was determined to teach me how to garden. Somehow he found out, or just knew, that the once happy, active someone, had been reduced to a tired and isolated no one, spending his days alone in his room—waiting.
He picked me up one morning. I packed a lunch so I wouldn’t have to worry. He took me out to get breakfast at his and grandma’s favorite pancake place, but I refused to eat. We went back to his house where we sat in the old wicker chairs on his porch. My Grandpa loved to tell stories and jokes. When he thought something was really funny you knew it because he would burst out laughing in one of those laughs that turned into wheezing. Usually he laughed at his own jokes.
My grandpa loved simple things. Like Oreo cookies and Coke—and toothpicks. He loved music and the feeling of a good chair beneath his butt. He loved chocolate, ice cream, grandma, and the warmth of the sun. My grandpa loved to read. He loved to write. He loved to smile, to stare, to sit, to share, to stop, to listen. My grandpa loved.
And he was determined to teach me how to garden.
So morning after morning of going to grandpas house and refusing to garden, I gave in. I pulled on a pair of old blue jeans that were washed out and white in the knees, put on an old workout shirt I hadn’t used since wrestling, and walked out into the backyard to plant flowers, pull up weeds, and water plants with my grandpa.
To tell you the truth, because of my dexterity, strength, and youth, I think I was a better gardener than he was. He told me to dig, and I dug—and I did it well. He told me to pull up crab grass, he told me to dig six-inch holes, he had move clay pots, and reach the hanging plants he couldn’t. I could cut and trim and whack and hack, and then I could pull back all that energy and delicately peel the dead pedals off flowers, pick thorns off roses we had cut, picture patterns in my head and arrange colorful displays of living beauty in a pot, a window sill, or in a flower bed.
But honestly, all this stuff about gardening is me filling in the details. I don’t actually remember talking much about types of evergreens or what a perennial is, or what the difference is between fertilizer, soil, or mulch. I remember talking about dreams. I remember talking about life, T.V. and baseball and Oreo cookies. I remember him telling silly jokes. I remember him encouraging me to think about God, to read great books, to write, and to live.
My Grandpa was a High School English teacher before he retired. Everyday as we toiled in his garden we talked stories, we talked truth, we talked epic adventures of Chaucer’s knights, Tolkien’s elves, Fitzgerald’s 20’s, Lewis’ worlds, Steinbecks’s California, and Twain’s south.
Life poured from the pages he memorized and into me. Somehow, they took root. That was the first thing I learned about planting flowers. You make sure the roots have room to grow.
My grandpa created a space in me for something to grow. It started with a garden. It was rooted in his world of books and words as we talked in the cool morning. Then it grew.
Now I see it blooming. I Hope I too can become the same kind of man he is and love the simple things. I already love Oreo cookies and peanut butter, Coke, and toothpicks, music and the feeling of a good chair beneath my butt. I already love chocolate, ice cream, my grandma, and the warmth of the sun. I already love to read, to write, to smile, to stare, to sit, to share, to stop, to listen. All I need to become now is a man who loves like he did—and find somebody, or everybody, to love.