This is contributed by our Writers in the Grove member Gretchen Keefer.
Allie groaned as she rolled over to shut off the alarm. Through her slitted eyes the gray light of early dawn filtered in. “Why did the alarm go off so early?” she wondered. This was too early for a summer morning. Yet there was something about today….
As she stretched and tried to open her eyes more fully, she heard movement in the kitchen; then the back door closed. “Grandmom.” Allie jumped out of bed. Today was the day she was supposed to help Grandmom take her produce to the farmers’ market. The vegetables had been packed last night, but Grandmom wanted to pick the flowers fresh this morning. Hastily pulling her shorts, shirt and sandals on, Allie hurried out to the garden.
Grandmom greeted her with a warm smile. “Good morning. I’m glad you could join me today. Isn’t it a lovely morning!”
Allie wondered how Grandmom could know this was a lovely morning when the day hadn’t even begun yet. Grandmom was always cheerful, which was one of the special things about Grandmom that Allie liked so much. Yawning, she took the scissors Grandmom offered and tried to pay attention to her instructions. Pick the blooms that are just opening, cut the stems at an angle and put them directly into the ready bucket of water. As they worked, Grandmom hummed familiar tunes or told Allie interesting facts about some of the flowers. Occasionally she would remind Allie to cut the stems a bit longer, so people could arrange the flowers as they wanted to, or to leave some of a particular plant for the bees, which were already starting to buzz around the fragrant blossom.
An hour later, the old pick-up packed with the table, chairs, awning, boxes of vegetables and buckets of flowers, Allie and Grandmom went in the house for some breakfast. By now Allie was wide-awake and excited about the coming day. She had visited the market with her mom before her parents had left last week, and she was looking forward to spending the morning there. When she wasn’t busy helping Grandmom, Allie wanted to visit some of the craft booths, and watch the people.
Allie had been reminded of her status as youngest in the extended family just last week at the reunion. All the cousins had commented that they had taken turns helping Grandmom with the garden and the market. Allie was the only one who hadn’t had a turn yet. When she asked her parents if she could stay and help Grandmom another week, they were hesitant. “Well, you are a bit young,” her mom had said. “Your cousins were older when they took their turns helping Grandmom.”
“Gee, Mom, I’m almost 12. Betty stayed with Grandmom a whole month when she was 12 and a half. It’s just one week.”
“Twelve is a pretty important age,” her dad admitted. “It’s a good time to start learning more responsibility.” Her dad was usually on her side.
In the end, they agreed to let her stay another week, making her promise that she really would help Grandmom. The garden took a great deal of work, and Grandmom needed a helper, not a bother.
They were so busy during the week that Allie was surprised how quickly the days flew by. She hadn’t been lonesome or homesick the entire week and Grandmom had congratulated her on being such a big help. Driving into town, Allie reviewed all she had learned in just one jam-packed week. They canned and made jam. That was a lot of work, but Grandmom made it fun as she told stories while they worked. Allie really laughed at the story about Aunt Annette volunteering to watch her little brothers instead of picking pears. While Aunt Annette was chatting with her girlfriend on the phone, the rambunctious boys almost drowned the cat in the washing machine
Most of the canning had been done earlier, while her mom and aunts were there to help. Allie remembered all the ladies in the kitchen chatting and laughing, while she had played with her cousins. Each family had taken some of the bottled fruit and colorful jars of jam home. That was a favorite result of each summer’s reunion at Grandmom’s.
Then there was the honey. Grandmom had lots of flowers in her garden, so the bees would have some food. Uncle Pete had helped with the beehives before he left, pulling out the full frames, extracting the honey, and preparing the hives for the coming fall. Now some of the golden jars of honey were safely packed in the truck as well. Allie was sure people would want to buy the honey. Was there a more perfectly natural or delicious treat?
The morning at the market was almost as much fun as Allie had expected. At times she and Grandmom were very busy, helping customers choose produce or flowers, wrapping purchases, counting out change. Allie repeated the instructions for the cut flowers so often she didn’t even have to think about the words. During some slow moments, Allie was able to walk around the market and view the craft booths. What a wonderful variety of things people made! She also saw many other people sharing the produce from their farms and gardens. Proudly she decided that Grandmom’s was the most attractive display of the smaller booths.
By the end of the long morning, Allie was tired and hungry. She realized she had hardly sat down since they had arrived. While packing up, she suddenly noticed that, in spite of all the people they had talked to that day, there was quite a bit of produce left and more flowers than Grandmom could display in her house.
“Grandmom, what are we going to do with all this left over stuff? Do we have to spend the afternoon canning?” Suddenly canning didn’t seem fun anymore.
“No, Allie. We have some special places to take it. But first,” Grandmom smiled, “we need some lunch. As I recall, you really enjoy eating at the Burger Inn.”
Allie recovered from her fatigue instantly. The promise of a warm, juicy burger and a cold soda provided her with enough energy to pack the truck in record time. Grandmom directed her in sorting the vegetables into several grocery sacks and placing the sacks at the rear of the truck where they could be reached easily.
After lunch, Grandmom took a slip of paper from her pocket, studied it, and started driving to a part of town Allie was not familiar with. “Where are we?” Allie asked curiously as they slowed to a stop in front of a small, neat house.
“Hmm. It looks like we are at 4572 Sandy Lane,” Grandmom smiled. “Allie, please get the grocery sack with the cabbage in it and put it by the front door.”
“Then come back to the truck. We have other places to go.”
As soon as Allie was back in the truck, Grandmom started driving along unfamiliar streets. They stopped in front of an older house, with a broken screen door and toys scattered in the front yard. “Two sacks, Allie,” Grandmom instructed, “the one with all the carrots and the one with some jars of fruit as well as vegetables.”
Allie was nearly bursting with curiosity, but before she could start asking questions, Grandmom drove up to a house with an overgrown lawn that was nearly hidden by a scraggly hedge. Allie’s instructions included leaving a bunch of flowers as well as a sack of vegetables. Then they went to a house on the far edge of town with packed dirt in front instead of grass, and a barking dog chained to an old tree. Allie hesitated to carry the sack (this one had extra beans in it) to the door, but Grandmom assured her that the dog couldn’t reach her. Allie left the sack and ran back to the truck.
They made more stops, once including flowers with the sacks of produce. Now they only had a few bunches of flowers left. Grandmom headed back to the part of town Allie recognized, and soon they entered the parking lot of a long, low building that had several small patios and carefully tended garden walkways. Grandmom got out of the truck with Allie and helped her carry in some of the flowers.
“Good afternoon, Lucy,” Grandmom greeted the lady at the desk by the door they entered.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Pierce,” the lady replied, recognizing Grandmom. Allie began to notice that all the people in the room and down the long halls were very old. Some of them sat staring blankly at a blaring TV, some were in wheelchairs, and some walked slowly here and there. Grandmom had asked the lady something and Allie just caught the reply: “Mrs. Allen in 114 hasn’t had a visit in a while, and Mr.Whitsun in 125 needs some cheering up. Thanks so much for coming. The residents look forward to your visits and your flowers. I’ll put these in the dining hall right now.”
Lucy took two bunches of flowers from Grandmom and left her desk, while Grandmom called Allie to go with her down one of the long halls. She knocked gently at the door of 114. A tremulous voice answered, “Come in,” and Allie felt as if she had been suddenly transported back about 100 years. The room was stuffed with antique furniture, framed pictures, and lacy cloths covering nearly every surface. The tiny wrinkled woman sitting in the ancient rocker was dressed in her old-fashioned best, including a high lacy collar on her blouse with a large decorative pin at her throat. Her earrings and necklace matched the pin, her hair was done up in a bun on top of her head, on her bent fingers flashed several rings. Allie was speechless.
Grandmom removed a bunch of dried and wilted flowers from the vase on the dresser, refilled the vase with fresh water from the adjacent bathroom, and arranged the fresh flowers, while introducing Allie to Mrs. Allen. Mrs. Allen expressed her delight at meeting Allie, and launched into a story about her own granddaughter. One story led to another. Allie was engrossed in the tales of another time and place and hardly noticed the passage of time. All too soon Grandmom said it was time to leave. Good-byes were reluctantly said; Mrs. Allen graciously invited Allie to come back and repeatedly expressed her thanks to Grandmom for the flowers and the visit.
Allie was bubbling with enthusiasm about the interesting things she had just heard when Grandmom stopped at the next room. Mr. Whitsun opened the door forcefully when Grandmom knocked, startling Allie with his gaunt towering presence. He glowered at Grandmom and Allie as if they were intruders, squelching Allie’s high spirits. He turned and led them into the room, muttering to himself. Allie didn’t understand all Mr. Whitsun was saying and the bare, functional room didn’t have much to look at. Restlessly, Allie kept looking around the room, wondering why they were there. Then she noticed the flowers, bunches and bunches of dried flowers hanging high on the walls, over the windows and draped over the headboard of the bed. She recognized them as having come from Grandmom’s garden. As Grandmom finished arranging the fresh flowers in the vase on the TV, Mr. Whitsun took the old ones, wrapped the ends with a piece of string and hung the bunch over the closet door, still muttering to himself. Grandmom occasionally responded quietly. Eventually she introduced Allie; Mr. Whitsun looked hard at her, then said clearly, “Do you grow flowers, too, young lady?”
Allie was surprised, stuttered that she helped her grandmother sometimes, and looked at the floor, embarrassed by his suddenly penetrating gaze.
“Humph. You can learn a lot from your grandmother, young lady. Just pay attention.”
When they left a few minutes later, Allie noticed that Mr. Whitsun didn’t seem so glowering or gaunt. He seemed somehow lighter, clearer, as refreshed as the garden was after a cooling shower on a hot summer afternoon. Grandmom explained as they walked back to the truck. “Mr. Whitsun was a noted horticulturist. He developed several new varieties of roses, mums and other flowers. Flowers are important to him; they remind him of his pleasant and successful past. I always plant some of his varieties in my garden.”
At the truck Allie exclaimed,” Just one bunch left Grandmom. Shall we put this on the dining room table?”
“No, dear. I have enough flowers at home. There is an extra special place for that bunch.”
When they stopped at the small church near the center of town, Allie thought that extra special place was maybe Granddad’s grave. She had heard a lot about putting flowers on someone’s grave to show remembrance. But Grandmom didn’t lead her to a graveyard. They walked around to the back of the church, where a middle-aged man was painting an equally small house.
“Ah, hello, Mrs. Pierce. It’s so good to see you,” he greeted her warmly. “Is this your granddaughter?”
“Yes, this is Allie. She’s helping me today.”
“I’ll bet that has been an interesting experience for her today. Goodness, look at these lovely flowers. Mrs. Pierce, are you sure they are extra flowers? I know you sell them at the market and I wouldn’t want to take away from your income.”
“It’s quite all right, Mr. Spooner. These flowers are for you and your people.”
“ Well, we do thank you, Mrs. Pierce. Let’s put them in water right away.” He led them through the back door into the small church. Allie had never seen such a plain church. It was simple, clean, and very plain. No colored windows. No pictures or statues. No cushions on the benches. Mr. Spooner went through another door and soon reappeared with a jar of water for the flowers. He placed it on a small table in the front, near what must have been the pulpit.
“Allie,” he explained,” your grandmother doesn’t worship with us, as you probably know. However, she helps make our worship service more meaningful. When we see the lovely flowers she donates, we remember the rest of the wonderful creation God made for us.” Seeing her confused look, he went on. “The people who come here are very poor. Most don’t have jobs. Many don’t even have homes. They struggle with alcohol and drugs. But they are trying to change their lives. Seeing the flowers gives them hope and reminds them that there can be beauty even in their part of world.” He looked at Grandmom. “Thank you again, Mrs. Pierce, for your kind service.”
On the way home, Allie reviewed the day, trying to put it together. It was late in the afternoon, and she was very tired. Grandmom was humming a familiar tune the family often sang together, “When we’re helping, we’re happy…”
“We were helping people today, weren’t we Grandmom?”
“Yes, Allie, we were.”
“How did you know where to take the extra vegetables? Do you go to the same places all the time?”
“Most of the time, yes. I ask people like our pastor and Mr. Spooner who needs a little help. They give me the addresses.”
“I’ll bet the house where we left two bags had lots of kids,” Allie remembered all the toys in the yard. “Do they really like carrots a lot?”
“Hmm, maybe. They also raise rabbits for some extra income. I think some of the carrots are for the rabbits.”
Allie was quiet for a while again. Then she said, “Your garden is really important, isn’t it, Grandmom. It helps get you money; it feeds you, the rest of our family and these other people. And the flowers seemed to make people happy; even the people at the farmers’ market seemed happy to see flowers.” Allie thought about all the gardens she had seen in her neighborhood at home. None of those people took their vegetables or flowers anywhere else, except to put extra zucchini or tomatoes on another neighbor’s front step. “Grandmom, you could use all the stuff from your garden yourself. Where did you learn to share it all?”
“Oh, Allie, I learned that from another garden that existed long, long ago. It was called the Garden of Gethsemane.”