(Editor's note: This column is a reflection on Memorial Day and will run in two parts. Part 2 will run on Saturday, May 26.)
During a recent nursery visit to replace trees and plants lost to the western Kansas drought and heat, the greenhouse owner snapped off a king-sized rose bloom and handed it to me, and magically, as soon as I caught its scent, my grandma was there beside me and an entire era presented itself for review.
We grew up across the gravel driveway from my paternal grandparents, on a sweet little farm in the middle of a great expanse of wheat fields and pastures. There were cows and chickens and a big barn populated by sleepy cats, but the best part of the entire place was Grandma and Grandpa's garden. It spanned acres, and included nearly anything organic you could name — potatoes, carrots, onions, radishes, rhubarb, asparagus, sweet corn, peas, green beans, turnips (which I thought were yucky), strawberries and tomatoes (both of which we were allowed to eat straight off the vine and warm from the sun, taking advantage of the salt shaker Grandma thoughtfully kept next to the tomato vines); fruit trees including apple, cherry, and peach — and every kind of flowering thing. Peonies, mock orange, baby's breath, tulips, daisies, columbine, cosmos, daffodils, lilies, phlox, snapdragons — and roses. That list is by no means complete.
All of this was surrounded by hedges that my grandpa kept trimmed and orderly — a tall one across the back, with openings into the orchard beyond, and shorter hedges along the front and sides, with shaped entryways into the three main sections of the garden. Back in the corner, close to the cattle pens, grew watermelons and cantaloupe, sweet and succulent. And a half-mile away, next to an irrigation engine, was a colossal watermelon patch that produced enough for all summer and into the fall, including a rollicking annual community watermelon feed.
Outside the confines of the hedges sat my grandparents' imposing two-story farmhouse, filled with antiques and decades of living, surrounded by a cool green yard with a hammock stretched between two huge cottonwood trees and a rope swing hung from a sturdy branch. The clotheslines where we helped Grandma "hang out a nice wash" as she invariably declared it to be, stretched across the lush grass.
There was a cement and brick milk house where our dad and grandpa filtered the milk from the cows, skimmed off the heavy cream, and left it all to cool in troughs of fresh running water brought up by the windmill anchored next to the building. A battered tin cup always hung on a pipe so anyone needing a quick pick-me-up could pump a fresh drink of water any time. That water was life-giving to the farmer coming in off the tractor, the farm wife with an apron full of freshly-picked veggies, or the farm kid tired and sweaty from a hot game of hide-and-seek in the yard. We (my sisters and brother and I, along with cousins and neighbor kids) spent long hours in that yard and garden, held countless tea parties under the towering twin conifers set in the middle of the garden proper, and built more than one fort among the acres of fruit trees and evergreens out back. And on occasion, we worked.