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

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

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.


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?


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?

Rumpelstiltskin Reloaded

Some time ago I complained heartily about the fault lines running thickly through the story of Rumpelstiltskin. Remember?

“If anyone can hand me a better version that actually makes sense of the key elements in the story, be it a paragraph or a page, I will publish it here. Put on your thinking cap; ask your children for solutions; dig out your reference books. Serious, satirical, or sappy—anything would be better than the above. I’m grading for logic, not polish. Best version gets a prize, and I’m not joking.”

Incidentally, a Shari Zook version is not forthcoming. I had fun trying. I wrote a Memphis version in which the King turned out to be Elvis; but it just didn’t work. My husband told me so, and he is a) prone to overrate my work, not underrate it and b) never wrong. So that version called in sick and will not be showing…

But I’m happy to announce that I had three other takers! I’m linking to their versions below. Some snowy afternoon, curl up with hot chocolate and enjoy them all. Then cast a vote, or tell me which parts of the rewrites were especially fun.

Rumpelstiltskin Over Easy, by Regan Zook

  • This succinct version was written by my 7-year-old son. Paragraph breaks were added for readability; original spelling and punctuation have been preserved. The moral of the story is: Problems? What problems? There’s always a way out somewhere. Includes original artwork.

Rumpelstiltskin – An Alternative Ending, by Ryan Zook

  • Short, ironic, and political, this version finds its own solution to the problem. Meet Jenny, a savvy young woman who forms surprising alliances.

Rumpelstiltskin Re-Imagined, by Amy Smucker

  • Romantic, bittersweet, and almost modern, this version takes its time to develop a storyline that actually makes sense. Meet Annie, a young woman working hard to pay off her father’s debt—and Will and Andrew: the two young men who fall in love with her.

Many thanks to the participants for their courage and inspiration! No way I could pick a “best” version, so everyone gets a prize.

Amy's pen

Don’t you wish you had joined the fun? That’s okay, next time you’ll be braver…

The mayhem and the macabre

We had a lot of drama this summer.

You wouldn’t think it, since the walls are still standing and the sunlight is slanting gently down on the goats’ pen. But we did, in our small way.

Once in our yard we found an unfortunate starling—as Dickens would say, dead as a doornail. We trust he died of old age, peacefully in his sleep, although his posture was not necessarily one to encourage hope. Regan, who hardly allows us to kill flies in this household, was quite upset. But he thought, seeing the damage had already been done, perhaps he could keep the corpse? No, no, and again no! We were firm on this.

We should have gotten our first clue that evening, when as we put the boys to bed we sensed a slight twinge of old septic in the air. Sometimes our innocence, like our hope, is not warranted. It was the next night, when the ghost of the bird cried out for revenge, that we went hunting, and found a certain Walmart bag, knotted up, in a certain son’s drawer of treasures…

I will spare you the rest. It was vile. For days.

And then [this one is not macabre] there was the time that Kelly and Regan were playing tug of war with a blanket in the upstairs hall. He let go, and she tumbled backwards down the steps. Her father was also in the hall, and made an amazing lunge that saved her halfway down. She was still bumped up quite a bit, and screaming. We comforted, soothed, and settled… then carried her the rest of the way downstairs and laid her on the couch. She went ballistic—a piercing shriek that drowned out thought—and we found we had laid her down on top of a bee.

That bee, it turns out, was the forerunner. First he was just one, and easily dealt with—and then we found another, several days later… and now on these warm sunny days our upstairs windows are swarmed by them. Two to five on a single pane. Where are they coming from? Almost I would take Jehoshaphat back instead.


It’s been a little wild, these last six weeks. I’ve been canning and editing and writing titillating descriptions of pickles. Not joking. I’ve been weeding flowerbeds and harvesting from the garden, and celebrating the warm rekindling of an old friendship and the sparkling addiction of a brand new one. I’ve planted those poppies and hung the wall art and sewed the desperately-needed dresses for my daughter; taken a sick son to the doctor and sat in the classrooms and made the fellowship meal food and pulled off the birthday party.

I’m dreaming of a very quiet October. But you know, I really love my life. Drama and all.