The Grandpa plant: remembering someone I loved

If you thought that story was odd, here’s another even less explicable.


Confession: Once upon a time, I noticed a beautiful plant in a loosely monitored location. It may or may not have been the windowsill of my grandpa’s nursing home. Okay, it was. I made sure the plant was hearty enough to withstand a little pinch. I felt around in the dirt at the edge of the pot until I could extract a single root. I wrapped it in a damp napkin. Then I brought it home and planted it. (I told you before I have occasional problems with plant snitching.)

I named it the Grandpa plant until I could find out what it was really called. I love having plants that remind me of special people. I have Yvonne’s lily and Marlene’s philodendron and my mom-in-law’s Bethlehem sage and Cynthia’s spider plant and April’s creeping jenny and Aunt Rose’s oregano and the kids’ columbine and Sherry’s cilantro… and so many more. Even after I knew this one was technically “purple shamrock,” I called it “the Grandpa plant” for short. Kind of like how Robert goes by Bob.

I enjoyed it for several years, and watched it grow.

That was the story of the Grandpa plant until this spring, when I brought all my houseplants into the laundry room for their great annual shake-up – pruning, transplanting, and regrouping. I had noticed the Grandpa plant was not doing as well as I would have liked in its deep crock; it had grown better when it was cramped. I dug out all the roots (there were a surprising number of them, like mini bulbs), and placed them carefully into a smaller, shallower pot. Then I put the collection by a window – a different window, which was my big mistake.

They all died.

Every stem keeled over and bit the dust, and only one of the bulbs produced a new shoot, a baby thing of hopeful promise until it, too, collapsed.

I was horrified. I’d killed the Grandpa plant, and now it was gone.

Several weeks later, as I filled a jug of water at my laundry room sink, I saw something odd coming up in my African violet pot. You won’t believe this, but it was purple shamrock – the Grandpa plant – just two little curls of leaf, sturdy and determined.

I had not planted it there. I’d never grown purple shamrock in that pot. In the great annual shake-up strange things can happen, but this one felt like a resurrection. How did it get there? How did it survive when my careful tending did nothing for its brothers? (Don’t even think that snarky thought – you are suggesting I babied the others into an early grave?)

I watched it grow, delightedly.


Soon it had five stems or more, and one day as I looked at how the leaves of the shamrock intertwined with the leaves of the African violet, my eyes opened wide.

That violet came from my grandma.

I’d not thought of it before,
but of all my two dozen houseplants (and countless outdoor varieties)
it’s the only plant I have from
Grandpa’s
wife.

I like to think of him in heaven, and her in Ohio, and their plant starts twining together beside my sink.

Colors of spring

Confession: I always thought the true colors of spring were rainbow pastels – lilac, mint, pink, baby blue, soft yellow.

But when I went driving a week or two ago and really looked at the countryside, the colors weren’t what I expected. Rust was a big one, and chartreuse, scattered through the trees all over the hills as they pushed their new leaves. The brightest of gold, for the forsythias and daffodils and dandelions. A warm lavender blush, for the early flowering trees. Neon green in the early leaves and grasses, and blue, blue, blue for the sky.

It was shockingly beautiful.

In praise of the soybean

My dad grew edamame before it was cool. We called it by another name back then.

In the garden he claimed from a Minnesota meadow, he planted rows of soybeans, poor man’s food he remembered from his boyhood. When the plants died in the late summer, he uprooted them by the dozen and laid them in our yard. Rows and rows of tables stacked high with brittle stalks. How many were there? We pulled the sharp, hairy pods from the plants and my mom boiled them until the beans inside were bright and ready, jewels of goodness we pinched from the pods until our thumbs were sore. The mosquitoes chewed holes in our legs, and we stood on one foot so we could scratch with the other.

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When I was an adult, I went to a posh restaurant and was surprised to find edamame on the menu; the waiter grinned when I pronounced it correctly (“Very nice. Usually nobody knows what that is”), but I was raised on it in the wilds of Minnesota and when it arrived on my plate I found they hadn’t even bothered to pinch it out of the pods, but oh it was good, packed and popping with goodness, and since then I have found it at my supermarket shelled or not; an easy choice for this girl who remembers how

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The mosquitoes chewed holes in our legs, and we stood on one foot so we could scratch with the other. We pulled the sharp, hairy pods from the plants and my mom boiled them until the beans inside were bright and ready, jewels of goodness we pinched from the pods until our thumbs were sore. How many were there? Rows and rows of tables stacked high with brittle stalks. When the plants died in the late summer, he uprooted them by the dozen and laid them in our yard. In the garden he claimed from a Minnesota meadow, he planted rows of soybeans, poor man’s food he remembered from his boyhood.

img_9951-plate

We called it by another name back then. My dad grew edamame before it was cool.

 

Forbidden fruit

I think of this story around this time of year, when our bushes hang heavy with berries.


Once upon a time

when I was a little girl,

we went to stay in the home of some friends in Virginia. When we arrived, our hosts showed us around and made us comfortable, in true Valley style. Then they warned us about the berries on the edge of the woods.

They look delicious, like blueberries, they said, but please don’t taste them. We think they are poisonous.

Very well, my parents agreed. Children, do you hear? Leave the berries by the woods alone.

berries_7614

I was only five years old. What do you think happened when I found myself alone?

The next thing I remember was that I stood in the open doorway of the house, looking up a flight of unfamiliar stairs at my mother. My very displeased mother.

Shari, she said. Did you eat those berries?

I hunched my shoulders and pressed my hands against the door frame. No, mom.

Shari. Look at me. I know you ate those berries; don’t lie to me.

No, mom.

Well, I got my rear end spanked for it and afterwards, I sat on the kitchen counter sniffling and eating cookie dough while our kind hostess cheered me up. It’s the only deliberate lie I remember telling in childhood.

When I was an adult, I asked my mother How were you so sure?

She said, BECAUSE YOU HAD BLUE ALL AROUND YOUR MOUTH.

So. No use blaming the world’s sins on Eve; I am an original sinner. Ate the forbidden fruit and lied about it. Didn’t even see the snake.

I wonder what died inside me?

Just for new moms

Confession: Nowadays, my biggest mothering challenge seems to be saying “What?” so many times.

“Hey Mom.”

“What?”

“Guess what?”

“What?”

“Do you know what happened today?”

“What?”

“Um… I forget what I was saying.”

WHAT??!?!

Okay, there might be a few bigger challenges, like sibling rivalries, preadolescent attitudes, and foster bye-byes. But my point is that it’s gotten smoother.

It’s easy to forget my earliest days of mothering, when being responsible for the health and happiness of a small person 24/7 was oh, so daunting. Probably every woman makes the transition to motherhood differently. For some, those first baby days are sweet and simple, everything they’d hoped for and more. For others, they bring a serious reality check.

The work never ends.

He won’t stop crying.

Will I ever have time to take care of myself again?

She’s such a good baby, but I just feel overwhelmed all the time.

If this is you, take heart. You’re not alone.

newborn feet

After my first child was born, and I was dealing with post-partum depression I didn’t recognize, I couldn’t hear of someone else’s pregnancy news without thinking “Oh honey, I’m sorry. You have no idea what you are getting into.” I worried all the time, listening for his crying, stressed out that I’d do something wrong. I felt like I had become a different person—my body and moods unfamiliar, my old routines shattered.

I remember the first time I left my son for half an hour with Grandma. Though I was desperate for a break, I felt a chain tied between my baby and I, tugging unbearably every moment I was gone, and I thought I’d never be free again.

Though my first child was by far my easiest baby in temperament, I fought months of exhaustion and discouragement. It wasn’t so much the work as the responsibility. This small person would be utterly dependent on me for an awfully long time. There was no mom to call on but me. At any hour of the day or night, he might need me and I would be on duty. Some women thrive on that sweet dependence and connection, but for me, the first time around spelled claustrophobia and fear.

I felt small and inexperienced. I thought all moms were selfless, and tireless, and above all knew what to do. I was just me, trying to wing it. Living in a new community without extended family, just beginning to form friendships, I felt so isolated and unprotected. Who would guide me? Who would take care of me?

If this is you, take heart. You’re not alone, and it gets better, I promise.

newborn crying

Though I now mother four children, and regularly conquer task lists that would once have looked superhuman to me, I’d personally take this stage any day over that first one. It was hard!—and new moms are brave!—and I never had to go through it again. My others babies didn’t come close to packing the overwhelming responsibility of the first. I’d deal with a couple weeks of emotional drama post-partum, and then things would level off. I can do this. I remember how. It’s going to be okay.

{If by any chance you are pregnant with your first baby, this is not the time for you to start freaking out. You will surely be one of the moms who finds those newborn days simply sweet! And there’s this…}

The thing about mothering is, you have to learn as you go.

You can read the best books, be loved by the best husband, line up the most support, and in the end, it’s still you who has to show up and make this thing happen. But you have Jesus. He won’t leave you. You’ve never done this before, and that’s okay. You won’t do it perfectly, and that’s okay. Babies are more resilient than you think, and although there’s a lot you can learn, there isn’t one right way to do it.

You are in a role that nothing but the role quite prepares you for. And you’ll get better at it.

You don’t have to love every minute. You don’t have to feel that all your dreams came true and your baby is a squishable shnookums you can’t stop holding. You just have to show up. Ask for help. Talk to your husband/ your doctor/ a few friends about what you’re feeling. And show up.

“When do you start liking it?” a young mother asked me lately. She wasn’t talking about mothering so much as housework, endless dishes and laundry in a lonely house when she’s a woman who loves people and getting out.

“You don’t have to like it,” I said firmly. (The “loving every minute” jazz puts way too much pressure on the rest of us.) “You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it.”

Whoa, I thought. What kind of advice is coming out of my mouth?!?

“And pretty soon, you’ll be good at it.

kissing a newborn

Pretty soon, you’ll find that the bewildering blur of diapers and nursing pads and sleep schedules has settled into quite a workable system, and you’ll be whirring in the hub of it, doing what you’re good at.

There is a lot of joy there.

*****

All photos in this post were taken by my friend Shaunda Stoltzfus when my daughter Kelly was two weeks old. You’d never know it, but five of our older kids were tearing around and climbing all. over. us. during this photoshoot.