Grandmother was a gardener.
That’s not too surprising. Almost everyone of her generation (she was born in 1890) who had a little plot of land grew crops and flowers. People grew food and raised animals out of necessity. And if they had time, they tended flower gardens.
My grandmother lived her whole life on Kentucky mountain farmland. We don’t know what year this photograph was taken, and we don’t know who the photographer was. What we see in this photo is a sturdy woman, focusing on a plant she intends to use for a purpose unknown to us today.
The land, however, is familiar to me. The gentle slope of the field and the mountain in the background can still be seen from the back door of the house where my mother was born, the house where my oldest brother now lives.
When I was a child, I remember that field was planted in corn. Closer to the house was a vegetable garden with beans and potatoes and tomatoes. To the right, out of the photo, was the apple orchard and the bee hives. To the left, nearer to the creek, was where the barn and the animal pens were.
I can still remember a flock of chickens freely wandering about, roosting and nesting in an outbuilding that also stored hoes, rakes and empty canning jars.
All around the house were flowering plants and shrubs. Daffodils and tulips bloomed wildly every spring, giving way to poppies and iris later in the year. Peonies and azalea took their turns, providing color in an overwhelmingly green landscape.
The orchard and the farm buildings are all gone now. Only the house, a garage and the land remain. The perennials have all died off, neglected for years as the residents who lived in the house aged and couldn’t tend them any longer.
My brother moved there after he retired. He lives in the house but, for many reasons, he doesn’t have a garden. It’s a different time, a different place.
My days are spent in fully air-conditioned environments in the city. But I still remember everything about those gardens. Is that why I still have a need to dig in the dirt, to plant something, for a use still unknown to me?