My Grandmother

I talk about her a lot, I know. She was, and is, a huge influence in my life.

My grandmother planted a garden every year. It was small by the standards of other folks in the town, but she was only feeding three. She planted lettuce, peas, corn, potatoes (LOTS of potatoes), onions, beets, radishes, beans (I always hated their sticky, furry feel; they always seemed to pull at your fingers), spinach, carrots, cabbage, and some other stuff that rotated from year to year. Her garden was behind the house, behind the hedge, next to Grandpa’s workshop (a dark, oily-smelling mysterious place full of old license plates, rusted tools, a few hidden bottles, tins of tobacco, and log books full of flowing, spidery script written in pencil), between the granaries and the neighbour’s burning bin. Together, we weeded that garden (I pulled out more than a few of my share of beets and radishes), we took the hoe to it. We watered it after the blistering sun had passed its zenith, leaving waves of chattery grasshoppers, popping caragana pods, and the smell of burnt grass in its wake.

When she talked, sometimes her teeth clattered where they oughtn’t have; I didn’t know until many years later that many people with ill-fitting dentures spoke that way. I thought it was only my Nama. Together, when the sun was at its most hot, we made pastry, washed berries, and shelled peas. Together we sorted laundry, folded towels and sheets, and changed the linens on the beds. Together we scrubbed the bathroom, vacuumed the floor, and swept the stairs. Together we made sandwiches for the men in the field, made iced tea for them, and together we rode out, she sitting on a phone book in the driver’s seat, me holding the iced tea on my lap.

In the field, the soil tossed itself about on the breath of the wind. Dry, dry, dry. The newly-swathed rows of wheat would stab into my ankles. Nama would lay out a thick denim quilt between the swaths, and we’d lay out the potatoes, the beans, and the roast. The iced tea, we put on the tailgate, along with a basket full of plates and cups and cutlery.

The meals we had in the field were always special. They were my favourite. I got to drive the swather, or the combine. I got to sit on my grandfather’s lap, and he’d tell me how to steer. How to gauge where the header would catch the standing wheat. Or I’d sit with my uncle, as my grandfather had a little nip or two. My uncle, more like a big brother than like an uncle, would tell me how much bread would be made from the wheat I was cutting. He would point to the sky and show me how to tell the difference between hail and rain on the horizon. Or he would just sit back, let me drive, and he would sing.

We’d get back to the truck, and the meal would be packed up, and I would jump down from the tractor and slide in beside my Nama.

Then, at night, the men would come in. Nama always let me stay up until they came in. It didn’t matter if it was ten, or midnight, or two – she would wake me up and bring me out to the kitchen and we would serve the men a late-night sandwich lunch. I loved the smell of diesel and dust that came in with the men. I loved the look of their work boots, lined up at the door; their gloves, laid gently on top of the boots. I loved the look of their sock feet, under the table…revealed and somewhat bashful, it always seemed to me.

These are some things I remember in August.

  4 comments for “My Grandmother

  1. Smarty Pants
    2 February 2010 at 1:29 pm

    “the smell of diesel and dust”…perfect. Thank-you.

  2. der kaptin
    2 February 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Great, great memories. The sights and sounds are very familiar to me too. Oh if only every child could be as loved as you were, if every girl could be so accepted and respected, what a happier place the world could be.

  3. Ruth Elliott
    2 February 2010 at 1:29 pm

    I didn’t grow up on a farm but often visited farmers, especially during harvest. You beautifully evoked those gritty and real moments around gardening and harvest time. I have mentioned this blog post with URL on Twitter. I hope people will come to read this post.

  4. cenobyte
    2 February 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Thanks, Ruth.

    These memories are always evoked, and now I help my own father with harvest in the fall. I hope my own kids will have these kinds of memories, too.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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