Editor’s note: Jeanie Jackson, president of the Eastside Garden Club, writes about the memories evoked by the blooms in her garden.
This unusual summer has brought memories of my childhood as a little girl who lived in a coal mining camp in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. When school dismissed for the summer, my father would gather the family around and tell us we were setting out for an adventure and that meant a visit to either one of my grandmothers. Each was different and each pampered all four of us girls when the opportunity arose.
Being the oldest of the four, I was treated to a full summer visit with my Grandma Annie who lived some distance away. She was a woman of magnificent girth and height, reminding me of some of the Viking tales of old. We actually studied medieval history in the second grade and my imagination ran wild with pretend adventures.
She was widowed after seven marriages and eight children. She married my grandfather first, a Methodist preacher who went away to fight in WWI and died. She was an energetic granny running a farm by herself and had all of the delightful critters found on farms, which fascinated me. Grandma Annie also had huge creatures called bulls in her pasture and her word of warning was to never venture forth into that territory.
Having grown up in a coal mining camp I found it odd that at her farm there was no coal dust on the flowers or chickens. Her flower beds were rainbows of color. She had vegetables that I did not recognize as they did not grow in our camp. In fact, my Mother in desperation one year planted corn and became the joke of the camp when her corn came in at Christmas. It was a source of laughter for our family for years.
Grandma Annie introduced me to weeding, gardening, storytelling, and tried to spoil me rotten. The first thing she did after my parents and siblings began their journey back home was to take me to town — the big city. There she bought me dresses, pinafores, gloves, hats, socks and shoes. She introduced me to the joy of dressing up and I felt like a fairy princess.
The most beautiful dress I remember today had red cherries against black and white stripes, which I wore with a beautiful white hat with cherries dangling on it when she took me to church on Sundays. The pinafore was white organdy.
Grandma Annie wore a perfume still made today and every time I visit a department store I spray a sample and think of her. She wore pearls everyday except when checking on eggs in the henhouse and out with the livestock. To this day I love to wear hats for most occasions in tribute to her. She taught me to see the garden as a duty to all of the critters, bees, and butterflies who benefited from the wide assortment of annuals, perennials and vines that flowered there. She fed the birds, She had deer that were eager to meet a seven year old who thought she was in heaven on earth.
It was many lazy days in a hot summer, swinging on the porch and listening to her stories of life changing events. She was generous and loving and had blue eyes and red hair that intrigued me.
We had visitors every weekend and I would help her prepare meals and serve as a hostess. The visitors were mostly family I knew vaguely as our time in the coal camp was one of survival and school and caring for my sisters. So each summer was a joy for me to be a child and not a parent to my three sisters.
When I could not visit my Grandmother I would write her, sharing my dreams and hopes for the future and how much I missed her. She moved from her farm out to California when I was nine to be with “those college kids” and enjoy the sunshine. It was an adventure thinking of her as a courageous Viking striking out to explore the world.
Although I never saw her again, for many years I corresponded faithfully letting her know what an impact she had made on my summers of long ago.
Beautiful garden flowers are what I remember from that special time with my Grandma Annie. So this summer as I have tended to the garden, it has been a time of gathering memories of a lovely person in my life.