Strolling Through My Grandmother’s Garden

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My Grandmother and Grandfather Irene and Mart Baker, Soon After They Married – in the Early 1900s

On Mother’s Day last year, I received a packet from my mother. Now, that’s a switch–the daughter received something from her mother on Mother’s Day. She had emailed me earlier in the week, saying that a package would be coming and it was just some junk that my grandmother had kept and that she was about to throw it out. She added that I might like to see it first. With that preface, I opened the packet as soon as it arrived, and I wept..

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My Grandparents and My Dad H.A. Baker, who was born in 1921

There were some old valentines that my dad received when he was a child, and there was a Mother’s Day card that he had sent my grandmother.

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Look at it. It’s dirty, and the glue has caused it to discolor. Besides that, the card wasn’t much. Or was it? Yes, it was very much. It was probably the best that my dad could get. In fact, at the time that my dad sent the card, it was probably one of the best cards on the market, but by today’s standards, the card pales in comparison. You can be sure that my grandmother liked it, however. It was one of the few things of my dad’s that she had saved.

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I have written an entire series of posts about all of the things that my grandmother gave to me. She was an avid gardener, and I learned to love flowers because of her. She was a craftsman and when she wasn’t gardening or cooking, she was always crocheting or knitting. My grandmother was a quiet, humble, meek lady, and she blessed my life in many ways. Above all else, my grandmother was my soft, sweet place to land.

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My childhood home was on the street behind my grandmother’s house. Even as a young child, I researched the best route for me to walk from my house, stroll through my grandmother’s aromatic garden, and land at her back door. I made that journey several times a day, and on the best of days, I did so with my pajamas and toothbrush in tow. Those were the days that visits to Grandma’s turned into sleepovers–and the days that I slept on the tall, feather bed in my grandmother’s guest room.

Ode to Grandma’s Feather Bed
by Jacki Kellum

Like Great Aunt Edith’s too-long grip-
Too soft, too close, too tight,
You took me on a feather trip,
That lasted through the night.

Rollercoaster up and down,
Hot and sweaty through the down,
Carried me to slumber town,
And rocked me there,
Til dawn

©Jacki Kellum October 8, 2015

I’ll say more about my grandmother’s bedroom and my spend-the-nights later, but please allow me to take you through the back door of my grandmother’s house–the one that led into the small porch, where she kept her old wringer washer.

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Calico Cotton
by Jacki Kellum

I’ve reached the shore of my grandmother’s door,
The one from the garden, inside.

Oh, sun-sweet back room
Of my grandmother’s loom,

The place in the dirt
Of my grandmother’s skirt,

In your warm summer lap,
Hold me tight; I will nap,

On my grandmother’s porch,
Let me hide.

©Jacki Kellum October 9, 2015

My grandmother’s wringer washer tubs were covered by a skirt that she had sewn of calico cotton. That is why I named the above poem Calico Cotton. Unlike me, my grandmother was a wonderful housekeeper. She had probably washed, starched, and ironed the washer’s calico cover 1,000 times; and my grandmother’s porch smelled like freshly laundered sheets that had been hung out on the clothesline to dry.

My grandmother’s porch was not heated.  While there was a glass door from the porch outside, there was another door, a half-glass door from the porch, leading into the kitchen.  On wash days, my grandmother would leave the kitchen door open and allow the warmth of the house to flow out to the porch.

There was a wall-mounted gas space heater in my grandmother’s kitchen, and a stool was just in front of that. On cold days, I would sit, as long as I could, in front of the gas flame.  It was as though I needed as much of the stove’s heat as possible.  My grandmother’s gas range was on the other side of that stool, and if the weather was cold, my grandmother would also turn on the burners of the range. The white step-stool in my grandmother’s kitchen had to be the warmest place on earth.

My grandmother cooked three meals a day, and the scent of whatever she was cooking that day would embrace you, as soon as you opened the kitchen door. I wish that I could bottle the smells of my grandma’s house. Early morning bacon, eggs, biscuits, and coffee would certainly be a best seller.

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One of my favorite of grandmother’s fragrances, however, was hidden just behind the closet door that was immediately next to the back door of the house. There were two tiny closets in my grandmother’s kitchen, and each of them had unique aromas about them. Just inside the back door, there was a closet where my grandmother hung her denim jacket [she called it a duster] and her Sunbonnet-Sue headgear.  My grandmother always wore her bonnet and her duster out to work in her garden. At the end of every garden season, my grandmother would collect the seeds from her flowers and allow them to dry in the closet where she hung her jacket and bonnet.  She stored the seeds in little brown sacks that had been used so very many times that they felt like suede.  I wish that I could open that closet door now. I know that it still smells like Grandma there.

Grandma’s Closet
by Jacki Kellum

The bonnet’s at the very top
The duster’s down below.
Fancy flowers are drying still,
They’re hanging in a row.

Breathe the sunshine, weeds, and dirt,
Catch the seeds from Grandma’s skirt,
Store them in your summer shirt,
Plant them, let them grow.

©Jacki Kellum November 24, 2015

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In the packet that I received from my mother, there was also a letter from me to my grandmother. I had written the letter when I was in the first grade. Looking at it now, the letter embarrasses me. I was simply asking my grandmother for a dime. My grandmother lived a block away from my house, and I visited her almost every of my childhood days At the bottom of my letter to my grandmother, I see that she noted that she had indeed given me the dime, “She got it.”

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I have written an entire series of posts where I try to detail all of the things that my grandmother gave me. My grandmother was a kind, humble, meek, and simple person. She never asked anything from me. She didn’t need for me to be anything but myself, and I knew that she loved me unconditionally. My grandmother was an avid gardener, and she taught me to love flowers. My own garden is my living shrine to my grandmother. In it, I have iris bulbs that actually came from her yard. I treasure them.

An iris growing in my current garden that originated in my grandmother’s garden.

I am currently living at least 1,000 miles away from my childhood home and from the spot where my grandmother tended her wonderful garden. Since my childhood, I have moved several times, but because of my mother’s foresight, iris bulbs were dug from my grandmother’s garden, and I take them with me every time that I move. My grandmother’s iris bulbs are my talisman. I would not consider leaving them behind.

Most of my grandmother’s irises were purple or two tones of purple, but she also had yellow irises.

 My grandmother was German, and her irises are of the tall, German variety. I have added other German irises to my current New Jersey Garden.

Clarence is new to my garden, and I can’t wait until that gorgeous plant begins to bloom. It smells like heaven.

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But even during the winter, I like to watch my garden.

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Right now, I am anxiously awaiting the blooming of my first daffodil.

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Soon after the daffodils bloom, my irises bloom, and my grandmother lives with me once more.

I treasure the packet of mementos of my grandmother that my mother sent me yesterday, and I treasure the days that I was allowed to spend time with my grandmother while she was alive. Indeed, my grandmother probably did give me that dime when I begged her for it, but she gave me much more than that. My grandmother gave me much of who I am today. She certainly gave me the gift of gardening.

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Jacki Kellum Garden

Talisman

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