April is a month for new life and glorious colors in nature, as you can see from the photos in the April issue of Senior Selections.
It’s no wonder that gardening brings happy memories.
One of my first gardening lessons came from my grandfather Zellers when I was very young. It was, perhaps, the only memory I have from that year.
Grandpa stayed with us nearly every winter that I can recall. He lived during the summer months in a small two-bedroom house in Winamac on Riverside Drive. The only heat in the house was from an oil burner in the living room.
Grandpa had not always been poor. At one time he owned a general store, managed a grain elevator and farmed rented land at the same time. The stock market crash wiped him out and he spent his latter years living in the little house on Riverside Drive that was owned by my aunt and uncle.
So, when the weather turned cold, he became a snowbird of sorts. Instead of heading south to Florida, he headed north to the South Bend area where he wintered with my aunt and uncle or mom and dad.
In the spring, the snow eventually melted away and we knew it was time for Grandpa to return to Winamac.
Since all of my first cousins are gone, I can say without fear of contradiction I was his favorite among the grandchildren. I was also the youngest.
We spent as much time together as possible during those winter months. When it was cold, we played checkers or chased box elder bugs with broomsticks on the floor of the enclosed front porch.
One spring I was carrying a shovel outside (the reason escapes me.) Grandpa was walking alongside me and the tip of shovel dropped into the grass, overturning some dirt before I stopped walking.
I looked at Grandpa, wondering what he would think of the divot I made in the lawn.
“That’s good for the ground,” he said. “It helps the soil get air.”
Grandpa was quite the gardener. Years later, I read in Reader’s Digest that Italian immigrants to the United States were known for plowing up their lawns and using every square inch of soil to plant vegetables, a practice they brought to the new world from their ancestral home.
Grandpa was like that.
He had the only piece of land on Riverside Drive that was 90 percent planted with vegetables and fruit.
There was always a vegetable garden, berry bushes and a grape arbor over the sidewalk that led to the back alley.
Mom and I would often spend a week with Grandpa during the summer. Every year there was a bowl of fresh blackberries waiting in the refrigerator (or the ice box, when I was very young.) He knew I liked them.
His was the only property with a full size barn standing on the corner of two alleys as well. That barn held all sorts of antique furniture, some of which is now in our home and some of which I distributed to my cousins years later.
Grandpa was the dedicated gardener. One evening, mom got a telephone call. I was bundled up in a blanket and mom and dad drove to Winamac. Grandpa had suffered heat stroke while tending his garden that afternoon.
He survived but I learned heat can be a dangerous business.
I have never been much of a gardner. Shortly after we were married, we lived in Cairo, Illinois. I tried to plant a garden in our backyard and succeeded only in creating a new form of life. That’s what it looked like as it grew to about 10 feet tall. I cut it down before it could take over the city.
Linda and I tried to garden different times with little success.
Last year we were planning our garden and came to the same conclusion about the same time.
“We don’t enjoy this, so why do it?”
We laughed when we realized we were only trying to please the other person.
Now, we admire beautiful gardens that have been picked clean of weeds, where plants grow in soil that is powder fine.
And we like looking at the trees.
Winamac is still a special place for me. I enjoy going on Google and looking at the street view of Grandpa’s neighborhood. Where he lived is now a vacant lot but in my mind’s eye I see it all: The house, the hedge across the front, a couple flowering trees and the garden and barn in the backyard.