Growing up, Summer meant everything wonderful and magical. No teachers with god-awful red pens. No sticking to a structured 9pm bedtime or else. No more being holed up in your room because the sky dumped buckets of snow on your front lawn. No, Summers were for having adventures, playing tag and hide and go seek, building forts, and making mud pies. Summer was about all fun and it belonged to us, the children.
Looking back now, I remember all those things, but my memories are lined with a hint of guilt. Guilt over things I didn’t do, or should have done more of, like helping my grandparents, when they obviously needed an extra hand or two, maybe three.
Every Summer for as long as I can remember, my grandparents worked a garden. A massive garden 3-4 fields wide. They grew everything from potatoes to sweet peas. There wasn’t much they didn’t grow actually.
Any given day of the week, as long as it was not raining, you could find them in the garden. The hot sun would be beating down, the air hot and humid. Granny would be bent down pulling weeds, her long cotton skirt teasing the ground, and her hair, the color of cotton, would be pinned away from her face and neck. My paw, dressed in white cotton t-shirt and a pair of blue work pants, would be grasping the handles of Ole tiller plow, as it turned the earth from hard and packed to soft and supple. Ever so often, my grandpa would pull a white handkerchief from his shirt pocket, and wipe the sweat beads from his forehead. My granny would use the end of her apron to do the same.
As my grandparents worked, we played. The only time, my cousins and I, would go into the garden would be to swipe a ripe cucumber or tomato. One time we ate our way through a whole row of sweet peas, before grandpa found us, and shewed us out.
Years, have past now since the last time I saw my grandparent’s working together in a garden. My grandfather passed away eight years ago, although their our days I would swear it just happened yesterday. My grandmother is still living, but she is just a shell of the woman she once was. She has Dementia. There are days she knows that I am her granddaughter, Tammy. The one who would help her water her flowers and feed her cats. Then there are days my face belongs to stranger; just someone she once knew. Her arms are now too weak to lift, and her legs are too shaky to walk. She is confined to her bed, and has not stepped foot in a garden in years.
I am the one, now, that spends hours under a hot sun, in the middle of a garden, every summer. You can find me wiping sweat from face with the back of my old t-shirt and silently asking myself, “Why do you do this?” It’s not out of necessity. It’s not out of love for the veggies. I give most of them away. No, it’s more than that. I do it to remember, to hold onto my grandparent’s. When I am slinging my hoe, pulling weeds, or following behind a plow. I see them. I feel them. They are there with me. There words, “Read your almanac. Follow the Signs. Fertilize. Fertilize. Stick your green beans. Stick your tomatoes. Give your melons and squash room to run,” I hear them. I listen, now. I miss them. I miss them everyday.