Sunday, April 17, 2016

Annual Affection

     Cami sighed as she wiped her sweaty brow with the back of her hand. This was such a waste of time. She should really be out shopping for a dress, not digging in the dirt like Grams asked. The wedding was only six weeks away.
     “Careful with that soil, Camille,” a voice behind her called out. “Shake off the roots before you throw the weeds in the bucket.”
     Cami turned to see Grams had set up a lawn chair and held a brightly colored umbrella over her head even though she sported a straw hat on her head. “It’s just dirt, Grams.”
     Grams shook her head. “If you don’t care for your garden properly, you’ll kill it. The right nutrients, pull the weeds, not too much or too little water. It’s a delicate balance.”
     Cami answered by yanking another green culprit out of the ground and giving it a half-hearted shake before tossing it into the bucket with the others.
     Grams sighed. “I know this isn’t what you wanted to do with your Saturday morning. I’m sure you wanted to spend some time with that boy of yours, oh, what’s-his-name…”
     “Dan. His name is Dan. You’ve met him at least ten times now, and we’ve even had Sunday dinner with you twice. He’s going to be your grandson-in-law soon. Can you at least try to remember his name on our wedding day?” Cami turned to look at Grams, feeling guilty as soon as she finished.      “Sorry. I guess I’m just stressed.”
     Grams held her chin high. “Nothing is like it used to be for me, including my memory. And my arthritis won’t let me bend over to pull those weeds anymore. I know you’ve got a lot going on, but this is important too.”
     Cami nodded, continuing to pull at the unwanted plants.
     “Why don’t you take a break?”
     “I’ve got to finish this up, so I can meet Dan for lunch.”
     “Mind you get those roots. If not, they’ll just keep coming back. And you'll probably have to clip those vines.” She pointed to a mound that had overgrown its trellis.
     Cami half-smiled. “I know, Grams." As she cleared the vines away, she realized a wooden, hand-painted sign stood beneath. "Love Garden? Why is it called that?"
     “That was your Grandpa’s idea. When we started dating, he always brought me bouquets of daisies. He always said, ‘For hope.’ The other boys all brought roses, but something about the innocence of those daisies always touched me. When we finally got married, he planted a pot of daisies and put them in the kitchen window of our apartment. ‘Keep the hope alive,’ he’d say every morning as he’d kiss me goodbye.”
     Cami glanced back to see Grams gently touching her cheek and looking far away. After a few moments, she spoke again. “That big bush over there is that same plant. When we could finally afford a house, planting it was the first thing we did, even before we unpacked the boxes.”
     Cami’s frustration subsided a bit. “I’m impressed you kept it alive all these years.”
     “Going on 53. Some years were easier than others.”
     Cami wasn’t sure if Grams still meant the flowers.
     “Anyway, it became a tradition between us. Your Grandpa was a man of few words, but deep feelings. This garden was how we talked to each other.
     “Soon after our honeymoon, he brought home a potted ivy plant that had been shaped around a metal heart. When he handed it to me, he only said, ‘A promise.’ It wasn’t always for him to keep because I wasn’t an easiest woman to live with. But he kept it.”
     Cami paused, brow furrowed, to look at the ivy climbing the trellis near the back of the flower bed. “What promise was that?”
     “To be faithful. Always.”
     Cami’s heart skipped a little at the thought of her Grandfather being tempted to be with another woman. A sneaking fear for her own future lurked in the back of her mind.
     “When he gave me the ivy,” Grams continued, “I wanted to give him something too, so I gave him that myrtle back there representing our marriage. Of course it’s a lot bigger now.”
     Cami looked to the bush Grams pointed at with clusters of dark pink, feathery flowers.
     “What else did you give him?” Cami asked.
     “Those are mine,” Grams said, pointing to a bunch of pale purple star-shaped flowers surrounding a stem.
     “What are they? And what do they mean?”
     “Hyacinth. And it was me asking for forgiveness one of the many times when I screwed up in our marriage. There are probably more hyacinth in this bed than anything else. He planted that chamomile for me in reply.”
     “I thought those were mini daisies,” Cami said, looking where Grams pointed. “And what was that reply?”
     Grams chuckled softly behind Cami. “Patience. And boy, did he need a lot of it.”
     “I don't have time to hear about all of them today, Grams. Why don’t you pick your favorite ones?”
     “Let’s see, your grandfather planted the yarrow right there in front of you when I miscarried my first baby.”
     Something caught in Cami’s throat as she looked at the tall delicate stems, the fern-like leaves, and delicate burst of yellow swaying on top.
     “And when our boy joined the service, we picked out that nasturtium and planted it together. It’s that bush back there, the one with the five-petaled orange and yellow flowers. We always loved how both colors grew on the same bush.”
     “But this one,” Grams said as she lowered herself to the ground, legs outstretched, “this one’s my favorite.”
     Cami tried to help Grams back into a chair, but she just waved her away.
     “Your Grandpa asked your Mom to buy this for him when he was sick. The last day he ever got to spend outside was the day he planted this.”
     Cami looked up to see tears rolling down Gram’s cheek, but her voice remained steady. “He asked me to dig the hole for him, but he insisted on placing it and patting the earth around it himself.” She looked at Cami. “This is a Forget-Me-Not. And he lived for one more week.” Gram kissed her fingers, then gently brushed them against the delicate blue petals.
     “Girl, go get me a pot and my clippers out of the garage. Fill the pot with the bag of sand in there too.” Grams didn’t bother wiping her cheeks, but Cami knew she would have to wash the dirt smeared across her own face before meeting Dan.
     Cami carefully handed the tools to Grams, who leaned over and started cutting branches off the lilac bush. Some of the branches still had balls of tiny purple flowers clinging on at the end of the season. Grams put the branches into the pot of sand. “Help me up.”
     Cami lifted from under Gram’s arms as she tried to heave herself to her feet. It took three tries, but she was finally standing again. “For first love. Water those cuttings every day for at least two weeks until they root. Then after you and Dan get married, plant these in the shade until they’re strong enough for the sun.”
     Cami laughed. “You remembered his name.”
     “Of course I did. I’ve always known who he was. But the real question is, do you?" Her gaze pierced Cami's heart. “Come back when you have a little more time, Camille, so I can teach you how to keep your own garden,” Grams said.
     Cami pulled her into a hug, spreading dirt between both of them. “You already have, Grams. You already have.”