“Grandpa, watch!” I called, twirling around in my hand-me-down galoshes, barely able to keep my balance in the puddle of murky rainwater that had dribbled off the spouting this Sunday. I watched as Grandpa peeked his head around the wisteria vine, assuring me of my beautiful although uneducated dancing abilities while he sipped on the leftover morning coffee that smelled stale. He settled back down in his chair, propping his worn New Balance sneakers on the small stand in front of him. I glanced down at my polka-dotted boots that were submerged in the mud made from the morning shower as I used them as plungers in attempt to dig my way to China; my older brother had graced me with his wisdom that this feat was possible. My eye caught the rosebush, silently budding with pleasure because it was finally spring; outstretching my fingers, I lightly touched the dewy pink blossoms that were creamy on my fingertips and carefully avoided the small thorns that gnashed out with bared teeth.
Although my grandparent’s yard was small because it was in town, everything seemed so large the summer before my fifth birthday. Twelve child strides took me to the base of the Bradford Pear tree where the crocus poked up through the moist ground, rejoicing in colors of ochre, azure, and maize. I bent my lithe frame in half in order to inspect the tiny flowers more closely. Sighing impatiently as I stood up, I galloped up the sidewalk to the porch where Grandpa sat. No matter the weather, Grandpa always wore the same attire when outside: an old, paint-covered t-shirt complete with small holes from snagging on things like the chain link fence and his khakis worn thin around the knees and left back pocket where his wallet had carved its place. Sometimes in the summer, if it were to get hot, Grandpa would remove his shirt, allowing his sweat to evaporate as the sun beat its rays onto his broad, tan shoulders.
Just as I approached him, Grandpa lowered his head, gazing out over his rimmed glasses to address me: “I do believe someone seems a bit anxious this morning. Are you that excited to get to work already?”
I grinned, feeling my dimples pop as I nodded enthusiastically, feeling my brain rattle in my skull. Grandpa worked his way out of his worn, woven chair. With my childlike energy overflowing, I bolted down the steps to the dilapidated shed in the backyard to assemble our tools. In Grandpa’s shed, everything had a place; the thin-handled paintbrush that he would give me hung from a nail placed to the left of the chipped aluminum door, and the small jar of red beet seeds came from the shelf above the doorway. If one were to stand on a step stool, I could guarantee that there would be a perfect circle of non-dusty shelf from where the jar came; despite the heaps of equipment and seeds packed into this small storage shed, everything had such a distinct place. Mom wished Dad could be more like Grandpa, at least that was what I heard her say when she could not find the right wrenches or screws in our messy garage.
I waited restlessly for Grandpa to open the locked door. Although most girls would have been terrified of the spiders and ants that lurked in the dim corners of the old shed, my mind was too preoccupied on gardening to even acknowledge their existence. Grandpa gathered the shovel and the rake while I slipped the string from the paintbrush over my skinny wrist and wrapped my tiny hands around the jar to carry it across the cement sidewalk to the bare plot of ground.
Noticing how clumsy I was in my galoshes, Grandpa had me sit down so he could tug the boots from my feet. I wiggled my toes that were finally free from their cage. Pulling me to my feet, Grandpa grabbed his rake and briskly removed the clumps of hard ground from the surface. After he finished, I picked up my paintbrush and moved onto the packed dirt path that he had made in the garden.
“All right kiddo, you know what to do,” he said, turning the corner of his mouth up as my feet squelched in the satin-like dirt. I took the handle of the paintbrush, gently poked it into the ground about two inches and then placed another hole about three inches from the last. After a few minutes, I had two rows of open-mouthed holes waiting to be filled. Grandpa picked up the tiny jar filled with what looked like grape nuts. Opening the lid, he shook a few clumps of red beet seeds into my palm. The ground, which was still moist from the morning shower, congealed to my feet and hands, leaving my skin smelling fresh. As I continued planting, Grandpa unhooked the garden shears from his belt loop as he walked over to the rosebush. Curious, I made my way over to him, past the wisteria vine that was brimming with purple clusters. I watched as Grandpa snipped away the dead branches from the previous year.
“You have to be careful when you cut away parts,” Grandpa said, his hands inspecting the branches closely. “You wouldn’t want to cut yourself with the shears or thorns, but your biggest worry would be Grandma tanning your hide for hurting her precious roses.” Grandpa chuckled, continuing his work.
When we finished our work, Grandpa and I made our way up to where Grandma sat in her cream linen capris. Although she had run all of her errands the previous day, her face was still beautifully manicured with light blush of sparkling pink which matched the rose petals that would bloom in the next few weeks. Her hair, platinum in color, reflected the sun’s rays that sneaked under the overhang like water. Seeing my dirty limbs, her eyes subtly rolled as she chuckled to herself, using the chair’s armrests as braces to help her stand. She made her way down the cement steps to fetch the hose from the flowerbed to wash the mud from my hands and feet. As I waited for Grandma to finish screwing on the nozzle, I danced freely, no longer having the heavy boots restricting me. In between my pirouettes and leaps, Grandma was able to sneak up behind me to spray my legs. The water was startlingly cold against my flushed skin, which sent me into fits of giggles and screams that made both Grandma and Grandpa laugh.
Once Grandma was satisfied with my legs being bare of anything but water drops, she handed me an old pack of cards that smelled of tobacco and mint tea. Undoubtedly, they were stored in the breadbox that contained everything but bread, like grandma’s Tic-Tacs and menthol cigarettes. I scurried over to Grandpa’s feet to sit on the cool patio in front of him to play solitaire. Unable to shuffle the cards, I placed them on the cement in preparation to scatter them. Before I had the chance to fling the cards in disarray, Grandpa leaned forward and placed his hands on my shoulders.
“Want me to do that for you?”
I leaned my head backward to look at him and handed him the deck; his fingers, although racked with arthritis, bent nimbly to send the cards into a bridge as each stack nestled in between each other. Grandpa shuffled the deck a few times then handed it back to me. As I returned to my game, I heard Grandpa’s newspaper shift as he returned to his reading, or so I had thought. Had I gazed over my shoulder, I would have seen him watching me closely, a mild smile dancing on his lips.
As I stood on the patio gazing at the spot where I had sat cross-legged in my bare feet and ragged t-shirt at four years old, my eyes welled with memories of all the days I had spent at my grandparents’ house over the last seventeen years. Shadows of recollections moved through my mind as I gazed out over the yard, now bare and lifeless, having not been touched in a few months. My eyes fell on the garden where I had learned to appreciate the life of even small things; the tree that had once seemed so large and impossible to climb, and yet I had done it to prove to my brother I could; the patio where I painted, played cards, and read the days away, longing to be anywhere but this small town.
“You okay, sis?” A heavy arm lay across my shoulders, punching through my thoughts as I smelled my brother’s cologne.
I sniffed in the brisk air and replied, “Yeah, I’m good” with a slight smile that dissipated quickly.
“Okay, well, we’re about ready to head out. Mom has the car packed with everything she’s taking.”
I heard the storm door slam behind me as I pulled the garden shears from my coat pocket. The wooden handles felt worn in my bare palms, and my fingers lightly swept over the carved initials PH. I sighed deeply as I slowly trod down the steps to the rosebush that stood next to the wisteria vine, now brown and brittle. I inspected the close-to-budding bush before taking a large section in between the shearer’s blades and clenching down.
As I walked to the car, I carried the shears and the rose cutting carefully as if they would break under the slightest pressure.
“What do you have?” my brother asked as he opened the car door for me, glancing uncertainly at the objects in my possession.
“Grandma and Grandpa,” I responded softly, settling into the backseat as I turned to gaze at my grandparents’ yard as we drove away.