The Gardens - In the Beginning

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Grace and Bert

Favorite memories as a small child always focused around my mom's grandma Grace.  I loved her.  Walking down to the end of our block to her two lot yard was an adventure I anticipated with eagerness no matter how many times I made that journey.

A strip of desert sand met with a tall hedge separating the street from the yard in front of her home.  Opening the gate at the center of the hedge, I remember an open porch area where she would often sit when I was out and about in her yard.  Not a blade of grass anywhere, totally the opposite from how my dad kept his yard.  I loved the daydreams and make-believe adventures that surrounded me on each of my visits, and there were many visits.

I don't remember us ever going there as a family, but I'm sure we did.  Mom must have been there often...she loved her mom too, but I don't remember her being there.  Just grandma and me...that's the way it should be for a child, I guess...Vonnie in wonderland.  No one ever called me Yvonne as a child.

The narrow front yard I remember as two large trees; elms, I think, that overhung onto the street.  Most of the yard was the second lot and all that space beyond the back of her home.  It was all totally surrounded by a tall wood fence, except the my own secret garden.

I remember the odor inside grandma's home as always being like beans that have soaked in a pot and are now simmering on the stove.  It may well have been the permeated stench of years of boiled bean dinners, but as a youngster, I always thought of it as the smell of old people.

A small room by the back door was always cold in winter...more like a mud room where preserves and canned goods were kept.  I never really knew what it looked old fashioned, because mom and dad didn't have one.

Grandpa was a phantom in the wind.  I can't remember him ever even saying one word to me, although I'm sure he said something in all those years.  He was introverted, shy, quiet...I don't's almost like he never existed until after grandma died.  They married later in life, had two sons and a daughter, and were already old at the time of my adventures in their wonderland.

The side and back yard was crammed full of peach trees and other fruit trees, berry bushes and, maybe...I don't remember flowers and foliage plants, but they probably were there.  The sweet intoxicating smell of a crushed golden reddish berry still haunts me in my older age.  It escapes to the surface of my memories in quiet moments, as if I am still that child holding it to my nose and drawing in the lovely smells from its juices.  My mind has never forgotten that is my link to the past and to the best times of my childhood.

Walking about the tree trunks and bushes under the shade canopy I was a horse, my tongue clicking against the roof of my mouth mimicking trotting hoofs touching ground, neighing and nickering quietly to hide from the rest of the world and my grandma, my descent into the craziness of actually pretending to have the freedom and ways of a horse.

Whenever I ate a peach in my wonderland, grandma would crack open the shell and eat the seed.  I always remembered to hand her the pit.  I tried was bitterly awful!  Later years had me concerned that I had helped poison my grandma, but as it turned out, we never came close to being that gluttonous for peaches.

I remember the garden was filled with insects, beetles and spiders...unlike that of my dad's well groomed gardens, and I knew where the black widow lived.  I couldn't help but check up on her each visit to see if she was out in the open...she was bad and she fascinated me.

Grandpa with sons Aaron Anthony and Albert Lloyd  

Far-Right:  My beautiful Mom, Helen Elizabeth

Grandma played cards with me, but I'm sure that was in winter when the gardens were bare and cold.  We sat at that round oak table, with the pedestal legs ending in bird claws holding glass balls, playing Old Maid and maybe other games...I don't really remember anymore.  Sometimes she had a lemon filling on crushed graham cracker crust icebox dessert to share with me.  It was magic whatever the season there...pure magic.

The year I wanted a garden of my very own, it ended up being at grandmas.  I set it up myself, just like I had always watched my dad setting up his vegetable gardens.  I barely have a clue of what I planted down those rows with hoed water valleys on each side in that patch of ground that was not shaded the entire day by trees.

 It's a sure bet snapdragons were there, they were my favorite of all flowers...but all I remember is peanuts and blue bachelor buttons.  Dad would check up on it sometimes with me to see what was happening...but it was all mine, and I remember feeling so proud that it flourished.

Bert and Grace
Albert, Helen, and Aaron

My cat, Fluffy, was born at our house in the cold frame by the side of the dining room outside wall during that period of time.  I was the one that discovered the kittens being born, rushing to grandmas to tell her and mom the news...bittersweet memories in later years when dad took her from me, because we had too many cats...but at that moment it was magic discovering how life really started for a kitten.

Growing older the visits were less, then when I was ten years old, I remember mom taking me aside and telling me that her mom was in the hospital dying from cancer, and my grandma would never be coming home.  I would never see her again.

Grace Ettabell Howell

Nathan Bert Copple

Grandpa lived six years beyond grandma's death.  I cleaned his home and washed his dishes.  I must have done laundry, but I don't remember.  Sometimes I made him that lemon icebox dessert he loved so much.  Dad walked down with me a few times, and I would hear him and grandpa talking; but words from grandpa's  lips to me were few, and I never really knew him.  He was my grandpa, and that was pretty much it.

I don't know why grandpa was found in the desert when he died.  He wondered out there, outside of our small town, and I don't even remember how he was found.  He was gone and mom hurt for a long time.  We never had much of anything of theirs to hold on to.  Mom's youngest brother and his wife took everything from the house without a word, and mom was upset for a very long time; but we always had the memories, and that had to be enough.

I still miss her to this day.  I have my Alice in Wonderland Book that was my present from her one year.  Its box cover long ago fell apart and I no longer have the pieces I saved, but my book still looks good and is always a part of her I keep with me along with the sweet fragrance of that crushed golden reddish berry that still dances in my head.

I'll always love you, grandma.


  1. Oh Yvonne! This was a beautiful and most poignant post. I found myself putting myself in your shoes and seeing/feeling your memories.

    I notice that of your two uncles, one looks like his mom, the other like his dad. Your mom is beautiful and look how slim!

    Sometimes memories are so strong and other times it hurts me that they have faded so much for me and are kind of vague. One grandma cooked fabulously but I remember to a sense of walking on eggshells around her. The other is where we had more fun but you kind of had to walk on eggshells with her as well (she was sharp tongued).

    Thank you for sharing such beautiful memories.

  2. It sounds like your grandma embodied all a grandparent should... wisdom, fun, dignity, laughter, and encouragement. When I was a child we lived just down the street from my grandparents, I use to 'run away' to her house. How I miss those days.

    As always, you are a wonderful writer!

  3. Beautiful memories. Every family needs a writer to relate stories in such a beautiful way. It's an opportunity for dear people like your grandmother to have a bit of immortality.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...