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Friday, May 6, 2016

Things I Miss

Sometimes we are reminded of things that we loved which are no longer a part of our lives. Time and experiences have their effects on us all. Some of the changes are welcome, and some leave us with a sense of longing weeks, months, or even years later.

As we drove to my monthly finger-poking at the doctor's office today, there were so many reminders of things that I miss. I thought, I need to write a blog post about things I miss. Before long, I was distracted from my original thoughts of things I miss, and the list had taken an entirely different direction. But they all tie together in their own odd way. When I lived with Gram all of those years, I became used to the environment we lived in and the way we lived. Things that I didn't realize were unusual or special were a part of everyday life. 

As we made our way to the doctor's office, we saw numerous lilac bushes in bloom. I remembered Gram's lilac bush that straddled the fence between the front and back yard. I wondered if the subsequent residents of the house knew what a special thing it was, and whether they kept it or removed it from the yard. I remember how my friends and I decided to leave flowers on people's front doors on May Day, ringing the bells and running away so that the neighbors wouldn't know who left the floral gifts. The bouquets always included some of Gram's lilacs.

Gram's lilac bush was the most impressive I've seen until I saw lilac trees in Hungary. Perhaps if left alone, Gram's bush would have grown that large as well. At the time Gram died, the lilac bush must have been at least seven feet tall, and even larger around. I am sure that it could easily fill up what is an average-sized bedroom these days. Almost every year it was laden with gorgeous and fragrant blossoms. We would often cut some and place them in various vases or bowls in the house, but it was always best to experience them outside. The bush was visible from one of the kitchen windows, and sometimes the gentle breeze would waft the fragrance of the blooms into the house. A delight of late spring, though, was to stand out in the yard and smell them. The sun gave a warmth to the lovely lilac scent and the shades of purple and green were a beauty to behold. You had to reach out and gently touch the blooms, involving as many senses as possible.

Another thing that Gram had in the yard, right next to the corner of the house, was a wisteria vine. It had grown over the years to have a stem as thick as a young tree trunk (several inches in diameter), especially because some of the seeds fell and added to the size of the vine. After the lilac bloomed, the wisteria clusters of light purple flowers would open, looking like little cornucopias made of blossoms. The tendrils of the vine reached over to the back yard gate a few feet away, and there were cascades of the flowers all over. Since the vine was on the corner of the house where the kitchen was located, you could get a view of it from the windows on both the south and east sides of the house. 

I didn't realize until I was well into adulthood that Gram's wisteria vine was more special than I had realized. Yes, I loved it, but I didn't realize how unusual it was. Gram told me several times that wisteria vines didn't grow well in Colorado, but this thing was almost a monster ready to swallow the entire house. I thought perhaps she was exaggerating her ability to grow things with her benign neglect. I will tell you that I never see wisteria vines around here. Okay, maybe once in about twenty years, and about one-tenth the size of Gram's.

In the space of just a few yards between the lilac and wisteria, as well as along the side of the house, was a riot of plant life. Along the side of the house were various shades of peonies that usually bloomed the first week of June. Gram picked a bouquet for me to take to my teacher on the last day of school more than once. After the blossoms of the peonies faded, the canna lilies came into their own. With their glossy multicolored leaves and their bright red flowers, they were a riot of color. After the blooms faded, we neighborhood kids would pick off the seed pods and peel them to reveal the small white marbles which were immature seeds.

Closer to the lilac, on both sides of the fence, were an amazing variety of blooms. The geraniums that Gram would keep alive all winter by breaking off stems and shoving into pots of dirt that would become blooming geraniums on both kitchen windowsills all winter. There were purple hyacinths and daffodils that looked like sunshine on stems. Amidst them were the snapdragons and behind them, climbing the fence, were the sweet peas. Many late afternoons, Gram would send me out to cut a handful to place on the table before dinner. Ruling over them all was a rosebush with long canes that would bend over when it was covered with red blooms. That bush and I got into several disagreements because it was even more prickly than it was beautiful, which almost made it seem like it had a bad disposition when it tried to grab you as you walked by. Pruning it was like getting into a sword fight because it had multiple thorns on every inch of stem and branch.

On the other side of the fence, in the back yard, were tomatoes and onions and garlic and chives. The onions, garlic, and chives were allowed to bloom beautifully and go to seed and come back every year. The back yard had no lack of color either. There were plum trees that grew like weeds. Every year we had enough Italian prune plums to feed many families as well as birds and insects of many types. What a delight it was to walk out under the largest plum tree and pluck off a sun-warmed plum, wipe the dusky bloom on your shirt, and bite into it, the sweet juices flowing. And the jam and jelly made from them was wonderful.

Gram had more than one bed of roses as well. There were white, red, pink, yellow, and silvery-lilac roses, among other colors. They grew like weeds for her. Incidentally, one of her secrets was fish heads. Whenever we had whole fish given to us by people who caught trout or pike and didn't eat them, she would cut off the heads before they were cooked and have me bury them in the rose gardens to feed the bushes. There was a forsythia bush shading a patch of rhubarb alongside a stand of gorgeous day lilies and tiger lilies. At the other end of the main rose garden were her incredible iris plants in multiple shades including bronze, along with Michaelmas daisies. 

There was a riot of mint plants and strawberries that both seemed poised to take over the world. There were other plants, too, plants whose names I can't remember. It almost sounds like a mishmash as I write this, but it was a glorious mixture of colors and sizes. And in the front of the house, the crocuses that peeked their heads above the snow if necessary to bloom, mixed in with pansies of all colors. Vibrant red tulips yielded to four o'clocks that opened hundreds of blooms late every afternoon. After dark, they attracted hawk moths that looked like striped hummingbirds as they hovered and sipped the sweet nectar. On more than one occasion when I went out to turn the garden hose on or off, the moths would be there, dancing around me in their incredible aerial ballet. On more than one occasion I danced in circles in the yard while they hovered around me, following me even after I walked away from the plants. It was a moment that brought me to tears every wonderful time it happened. I still long to have one fly near me as it did then, just a couple of inches away from me and unafraid.

I don't want to relive my youth, like some people do. I just miss some of the wonderful things I had at my disposal then. If I were of a more wholly practical nature, I would say that I miss my healthy legs and flexible knees. I could walk all day on those legs that Gram described as good-looking, and come back for more. I would also say that I miss my stamina and my good health, both mental and physical. What I miss even more, though, is living in a little old lady's beautiful little paradise. May we all be able to have or create a place that means so much to us.


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