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Among the Oaks and Bluebells


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In the midst of downcast days, it was easy to wander back to the colourful sanctum of my grandparent’s garden. Calling it a garden would have been an understatement, for the fingers of the ferns and the waves of vines stretched on for miles. A more appropriate name would have perhaps been: a thicket of woodland and blossoms. That thicket had once been my childhood playground and it was still easy to detect the echo of laughter trickling through the vegetation. The small greenhouse outback marked the centre point to the rows of flourishing vegetables and fruits. Faint scents of blackberries mingled with the fresh smell of carrots and raw earth to fabricate a fragrance unsellable to department store shelves. Like the rustic handmade railings throughout the garden, my grandparents had each put their own unique stamp on their home grown oasis.


My grandfather was the dominant presence among the rhododendrons and beneath the sturdy oaks. His calloused hand, the result of hours of plant maintenance, encased my then small palm as we walked down to the gurgling creek. Being six foot seven gave him a powerful stature, yet to me he was simply my faithful grandpa. My cousins and I would often receive wheel barrow rides down the gravel drive way and around the humble barn. From our childish laughter a smile could usually be drawn from his suntanned face. It was not always fun and games, because essentially he was the muscle behind the upkeep of the garden. It was easy to find him shovelling new planting sites by the scrape of the metal against sun dried dirt and the crunch of wheels against rock as he brought new stones to his latest landscaping spot. On hot days, when he was out watering the flowers, there were often followers (my cousins and I) eager for the misty spray of the hose in the simmering afternoon heat. The loyal family dog sunbathed on the lawn while my grandpa refilled the emptied feeders and dried out bird bath. The melody of my grandpa and grandma’s daily work was always a comforting sound to my ears.

In the background, a small woman could be seen hunched over the blue bells, dahlias and peonies; she was my soft spoken but strong willed grandmother. She was the primary care giver to the small flowers, weeding and watering them with pride. I loved walking through the rows of bushes, picking berries with her and allowing the comfortable silence between us to float above. The pies that she composed from those home grown berries were beyond words and it made me wonder what the secret ingredient was. At first there was the tangy berry juice followed by the sweetness of sugar and topped off with the moist crust; not to mention the sweet home made syrup drizzled over the pancakes she made me from scratch. She was a diligent gardener and it was easy to feel her efforts in the icy velvet of the petals which she watered daily. I used to stand on the log barriers at the front of my grandparent’s house and peer down the sloping hillside to see her white head of hair meandering between the snow ball trees and hydrangeas; to see her so content about spending a day in the green underbrush, breathing in the fragrances of years of hard work. I wish it were possible to live in the refreshing tides of memories, yet I’m chained to the present like a prisoner to a cell.

Here I stand, in the same spot I used to watch my grandmother, yet now I no longer see her budding snowball tree but a forest of decaying vegetation. The hillside is crisp with dead leaves, and the crunch they make beneath my feet makes me flinch. Long gone are the intoxicating fragrances of roses and azaleas and in its place is the pungent scent of moss and rotting wood. The years of neglect have added up so that month by month my childhood playground slowly disappears. My grandpa, still wearing his signature sunhat, looks on from atop his prison of wheels and there is the evident emotion of longing. If only he could still water the plants, shovel into the raw earth and nurture fragile stems. My grandma stands next to him and I know that with her days spent caring for him, her years of gardening are behind her. The family dog, nearly blind from cataracts, limps up to my grandpa and patiently lies down next to his wheelchair. The present picture they paint seems wrong, and I wish it were possible to restore their youthful strength.

Strength: the quality or state of being strong, mental power, bodily or muscular power. Looking at my grandparents I can see little muscular power in the way my grandfather favours his left side from a stroke, or in the five foot three form of my aging grandmother. What they lack in bodily strength however, they make up for in mental power. It is hard to imagine my grandpa’s extreme will power that enables him to get up in the morning knowing that all the day entails is fading into a chair; to know that he will never be able to get the chance to stroll down to the trickling creek like old times. Although it sounds cliché, my grandmother is the strongest woman I know. She tends to my grandpa hand and foot while clinging to old routines even though it means going the long route. She still makes me steaming pancakes from scratch, apple crumbles, and delicious pies. I know my grandpa will soon be in his office with a look of concentration on his face as he stares at the illuminated screen. He will order seeds online in the hopes of replanting the garden he lost so long ago. Yet even though these attempts at normality are visible it’s hard not to envision the future. As I stand in the decaying underbrush I think about what will happen to this house in ten years and the thoughts are hard to stomach because I know the new owners to come will never know about the lost thicket of woodland and blossoms.



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