Today is my paternal Grandma’s 106th birthday. She passed away 20 years ago at the age of 86. As I work all the numbers in my head, I realize I am the same age right now that she was the year I was born. How can that be? It seems like just last week I was a little kid, excited to be staying at her farmhouse for the weekend.
The first time I noticed the magic of gardening was on one of those weekend stays. Grandma and I had got up at the crack of dawn to wash windows. She was up on the ladder and it was my job to hand up the cloths and the glass cleaner in turn. We worked our way around the house until we ended up on the south side in the middle of her flower bed. Just as she reached down for a cloth a peony burst into bloom between us. One second it was a tightly packed bud ball and the next it was massive multi-petal blossom. It opened up like a spring loaded action toy. I will never forget the startled delight in Grandma’s voice as she cried, “Oh!” and how I was uncharacteristically speechless.
The shared witnessing of that blossom opening became our story. The one we never got tired of telling or talking to each other about. Or at least I never did. “Remember the time that big flower opened up in your garden?” I would ask, and of course she would remember and we would tell each other the details all over again.
Moments like that are why I got interested in gardening. They are why I still love gardening. Your mind can be off worrying about your kids, or money or what to make for supper and then bam! A blossom springs open and you forget everything. You come back, fully present. It’s the best kind of therapy.
As my gardens expanded to hold several peonies, I always told myself I would take the time to witness a blossom open. I would get up at the crack of dawn, pull up a chair, sip my coffee and watch until it happened. I would have the best intentions, but there was always so much to be done. Soon I was distracted by a robust dandelion growing up inside of a rose and off I went weeding, thinning, pruning…one task after another until winter covered the whole thing in a white blanket once again and it was too late. Next year, I would tell myself. Next year I will make time for watching a peony blossom open. Then it occurred to me that on the day Grandma and I saw the peony bud open we were busy washing windows, so there you go.
When you think about it, gardening is always one big magic. It can’t help itself. Dropping a microscopic seed into the soil and having it morph into a petunia that fills and spills over the side of a barrel-sized pot is pretty mind blowing. If you showed someone who knew nothing about gardening a teeny tiny carrot seed the size of a punctuation mark and tried to tell them it held everything it needed to grow into a snowman’s nose, they wouldn’t believe you. But it does. Discovering the perennial you planted three years ago and thought had died, but here it is in full bloom…that’s magic too.
And getting to see a peony open just once in a lifetime, and sharing that magical moment with a person you love, well that’s more than anyone can ask for.
This is my Grandma a few seconds into 1976. My sisters and I always stayed with our grandparents on New Year’s Eve while our Mom and Dad went to the dance at the Bessborough Hall. We would always say “See you next year!” when they dropped us off and think we were wildly original and funny.
At midnight we would bang pots, pans, lids etc. (Grandma has a tin pie plate in this picture) with spoons. We would march around the house banging away and then fling open the front door and smack our spoons for all we were worth, shouting “Happy New Year!” into the frosty, star-filled, quiet, country dark.
The peony bush was under the curtain covered window to the left. Grandma (Isabelle Weselak to the world) came to the Peace Country in 1931 and made her way to their homestead in Bessborough, 20 miles or so northwest of Dawson Creek, BC, in a horse drawn wagon with a toddler (Aunt Doreen) and a baby (our Dad).
She had a small flower bed, a gigantic vegetable garden and an optimistic zest for life, as you can see by this picture.
We miss her.