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In Grandma's Garden

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In Grandma's Garden

Trish time travels 50 years

Keira searched for flowers in a tall patch of unmown grass in my backyard. Most of the grasses were just over her two-and-a-half-year-old head, and some of the dandelions lurking within were nearly as tall. There were other flower surprises hidden in the grass for a patient eye to find, and when it comes to picking flowers, Keira has a patient eye.

As I sat in the sun on the back step and watched her exploration, I found myself suddenly transported almost 50 years back in time, to a hot little garden in Jackson, Tennessee, in the back yard of my paternal grandparents. I was probably about the age that Keira is now—I know this only because on that visit, I also recall sitting on the lap of Grandpa Yates (my grandmother’s second husband; my blood grandfather died 20 years before I was born), and he passed away the year I turned three.

My grandmother Ella Joy’s garden was probably typical of the kitchen gardens at the time, but to my little self, it was a jungle: green and mysterious, towering over my head. For a moment there on my back step, I could feel the heat of the sun on my head, smell that green, growing smell, and remember how absorbing the search for treasure (and everything found was a treasure) could be.

It was a good memory and I watched Keira and wondered whether, fifty years into the unknowable future, she might have a sudden memory of this very day and her hunt for flowers. That would be a good thing.

Ella Joy, who lived to the age of 68 (she seemed a LOT older to me when I was a child) outlived both of her husbands. My grandfather, Tom Presley, died in ‘41; she quickly remarried to Ernest Yates but outlived him as well.

She spent almost her entire life in Jackson, not far from where her own grandfather had lived, and that is where she is buried, next to Mr. Yates.

Jackson and the surrounding area nurtured a lot of my bloodline for two hundred years. I only lived there a couple years myself, but it nonetheless is the setting for many of my memories of childhood as we would often travel there to visit my father’s relatives. And I was always envious of those who lived there for their sense of belonging. 

When my own children were born, I wanted that them to have that same sense of belonging to a place that I never had, and I found myself planting roots in Clark Fork, a small town that I suspect has much in common with the town where Grandma Ella Joy spent so much of her life.

It was a hardy breed that settled here—as I try to break ground in my back yard/former field for my garden, I marvel at just how hardy they were. It’s a good thing for my own children that I wasn’t born two hundred years earlier, as they likely would have starved to death! The grandparents and great-grandparents of many who live here put so much effort into creating this community that their descendents, today, are not very quick to throw away anything that was built.

That is a good thing, too.

So here is the place to which my children belong and, even though they have all moved on to other places, this is where they return; for alumni, for the fourth of July, to cut down a Christmas tree after Thanksgiving dinner and to celebrate on Christmas morning.

I await those days with anticipation, as my greatest enjoyment comes when there’s family all around. With Independence Day just around the corner, I look forward to bonfires and baseball and maybe even ninjas in the community parade. I’m even gathering supplies for my grandkids (Tyler, Jade, Tristan, Keira, Landon and Gavin—they’re not all “mine” in terms of blood, but I claim them nonetheless) to decorate the dull, grey block of my raised garden beds, and to make a few memories. 

The smell of these mountains when the rain falls, the color of the dirt and the sight of cottonwoods “snowing” in the spring all exist in my children’s hearts to be recalled at some future time and place. They are here for my grandchildren, and hopefully will be here for my newest grandchild, set to arrive just in time for my birthday.

That is also good.

Here’s to making memories.


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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

grandparents, Clark Fork, Politically Incorrect, grandkids, Ella Joy Langford, Ernest Yates, Tom Presley, Jackson Tennessee

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