Inspirational People · Monday Muchness

Pickin’ Wildflowers

I said I wanna touch the earth
I wanna break it in my hands
I wanna grow something wild and unruly
I wanna sleep on the hard ground
In the comfort of your arms
On a pillow of bluebonnets
In a blanket made of stars
Lyrics from “Cowboy Take Me Away” by Martha Maguire, Marcus Hummon

*****

Pickin’ Wildflowers

My Grandma Leona was not a classic Depression-era beauty. Her harvest-browned skin and murder of jet-black hair were an arrant contrast to her delicate, shrinking-violet counterparts—cousins and classmates cast in pale, porcelain perfection and white gloves. Grandma’s lanky legs ran faster than the boys’, and she mastered the high jump from a standing position before puberty. Using few words to share her intelligent mind, she set people in their place with Lamott-worthy wit, candor, and random kindness.

On Sundays, she wore a red polka-dot ensemble to church. Grandpa used to reminisce about the dress and the woman who rocked it until he was well into his eighties. Despite his persistence, a romance wasn’t in her immediate plans. She taught school and didn’t agree to marry Grandpa until she was good and ready and into her twenties. Almost a spinster.

Their union produced seven children and more than fifty grandchildren and great-grandchildren. When her water broke before the birth of each child, she waved a white kitchen towel at Grandpa, who was in the field. After hearing the story for the hundredth time, I teased her that the seventh white banner signaled surrender more so than the youngest baby. She didn’t disagree with me.

Not an affectionate woman, her love language was doled-out wisdom and instruction rather than hugs and kisses. I attributed her displaced irritability to the unwanted side effect of losing two young-adult children less than three weeks apart—Teddy to a car accident, and Mary Ann to leukemia. She couldn’t grieve because she had ten motherless grandchildren to help raise. I wasn’t yet born, but I imagine her wearing sadness like a wooly coat—the itchy fabric weighing heavier with each of the four grandchildren she had to bury over the next several years. She didn’t cry and spoke about her losses with me only once. A woman shouldn’t outlive her grandchildren.

I thought I saw a tear in those bright eyes, but she turned away too soon for me to be sure.

Even with throngs of grandchildren, Grandma spent time with each of us in different ways. Her gift to me was our afternoons together immersed in biology, family history, and Kansas City Royals baseball. After switching off the game, she’d take me into the spare bedroom, sit me in the rocking chair, and trace our German lineage on the tree sketched inside her Bible. Her fingers were pink and smooth and softened by the memories she shared. In the rare instance she took a nap, I’d sneak back into her room to play with pressed powder and look for evidence of my genetics in the stoic, sepia-toned faces, framed and sitting on her dresser.

After history lessons, she would lead me outside and point out the flowers she’d carried over from relatives’ farms and gardens. Peonies from Great Grandma, and snapdragons from other families who were related to me in more ways than I could count. Those darned things came back every year (the flowers and the cousins) despite the harsh Kansas climate. She destroyed the weeds around them but let the flowers grow wherever they wanted.

Our relationship was simple and quiet—words lilted and surfacing when anxiety got the best of me. Grandma and Grandpa didn’t sleep together, and it worried me. Even at eight, I knew that people in a loving marriage shared a bed, and it distressed me to see the chenille-covered twin beds set against opposite walls.

“Why don’t you ever kiss Grandpa?” I yanked a weed top. “And how come you sleep in different beds?”

She dislodged a stubborn thistle and said, “He takes up too much space, and I kiss him when you’re not looking.”

“You love him, right?”

For a moment there was the hint of a smile, and when I caught her eye, she darted back for the dirt.

“Be sure you get those weeds by the root so they don’t come back.”

Pluck. Pluck. Pluck.

The silence was my cue to get back to work, so I’d sit beside her and weed until the sun set on the wheat-field-dotted plains surrounding her home. Neither one of us took the time to eat or rest. We labored beside each other in comfortable reticence, so anytime she spoke first, my ears leaned in for what I knew would be a life lesson.

“Do you know what I do when I get upset?”

Even though she was stern, I had never seen her lose her temper. “What?”

“I hoe the garden. Especially if I’m mad at Grandpa. First I work the rows between the potatoes and onions. If I’m still cranky, I move to the radishes and the corn. If it’s been a terrible day, I go across the road.”

Then she paused and harrumphed, “I always had the cleanest garden in Mitchell County.”

She valued the brains and athletes, artists and painters, and writers and musicians in our family. I had none of these talents, though it wasn’t from lack of trying. After rejecting a dozen or so horrible pencil drawings and remedial poems, she placed her hands on my shoulders and said, “You should just be you. Keep playing bad organ music in church. Your version is hard to sing to, but I love how you add the bells.”

She taught me to be myself, and I learned the powerful skills of perception, self-awareness, and quiet empathy. I sensed her moods and found subtle ways to influence her emotions with gifts of butterflies and chickweed bouquets. I painted her picket fence and picked cherries off the trees. We giggled at our unladylike fingers, which remained inked with crimson stains after pitting and canning the bushels of produce.

As I got older, her vulnerability started to peek out from under her iron apron. “See the wildflower in the center of the roses?”

I nodded as the multibudded, purple-bloomed beauty poked its head out of the pristine bed of hybrid teas.

“I’m like a wildflower among the roses. Not necessarily bad. Just different and in the wrong place.”

Not long ago, I was spraying the lawn for dandelions when the memory of this conversation popped into my head. Whoever designated these as weeds? Their complex, compact, and buttery blooms contain healing properties, and their glorious presence shouts Spring to the rafters. Why kill them because they are in the wrong spot?

My old soul is a consummate homebody. I am not sophisticated enough to portray the professional outlined in my corporate job description, and I’d much rather wear mud boots than stilettos. Spreadsheets, longitudinal plans, and expense reports don’t lure me like the sway of sunflowers—their faces to the sun and the wind at their backs.

My garden beds are chaotic and full of odd couples and mismatched community members. The promiscuous black-eyed Susans spread their seeds and suffocate their timid, stone-crested neighbors, leaving them to shrink back to the ground until the days get shorter. The extroverted mint shares a spot with petunias unless space gets too tight. Then their heady, scented tendrils stretch for the rooftops, worried I might ignore them. Orioles on the cosmos and echinacea beckon me like a siren to leave the desk and play outside.

At my house, the blooms spill over cedar borders and flaunt their floriferous feathers as if to say, “Just try not to look at me! I’m glorious and splendid, and I belong to you.” I plant peonies in memory of beloved pooches that have passed on. The dahlias and daisies and daylilies are for my friends who crave laughter and dignity in a harsh world. I deliver literal and virtual bundles of blooms when somebody needs them more than me—a sincere message that they are loved, valued, and cherished.

These flower beds and garlands are my love letter to Grandma. In her lifetime, she blossomed like the cherry pop zinnia that already knew the story’s end but flourished as if there wasn’t one. She and I were always on the same path and different from anybody else. Our legacy set as single wildflower blooms among the daydreamy, showy petals and completely content.

A version of this story first appeared courtesy of Lizzi and the Sisterwives – thank you for nudging me to write such a personal piece.

After that, I was honored to have the piece featured in the summer issue of Ragazine. After requests from some of my sweet family, I am rerunning the story here. As always, thank you for reading my rosy ramblings – it means the world to me. xo

67 thoughts on “Pickin’ Wildflowers

  1. Love this so much! She sounded perfect to me. I love your tribute to your Grandma. The story of you asking her if she loved Grandpa made me smile. Reminded me of my own grandparents and how they slept in different beds too. She claimed he woke her up all night with his tossing and turning, but I knew they loved each other. You area gifted writer, my friend. You made your Grandma come alive to me who has never met her before. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. So I guess it is appropriate for “Other Charissa” to chime in here with my name-sake 🙂
        This.

        THIS.

        My fave of your writing so far that I have read.

        Spare, precise, unclinical and free…

        I love this, for it captures the essence of you and the fields from which you spring.

        Love, your lil Dandelion
        Charissa Grace

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I love the Charissa’s in my life 🙂
        Thank you, kind friend.
        I also love how you picked up on the “unclinical.” Given my ‘day job,’ writing with a clinical slant is something that can creep in without me even realizing until I look back – even the lighter pieces have a tendency to be mechanical (boring) – I gotta stick with the heart, the sunshine, and most definitely…the lil dandelions 🙂 xo

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love that you so clearly recognized her love language and opened your heart to it. A lot of kids would’ve missed those subtle signs of love and kinship but you soaked them in. It is such a gift to have a soul connection with an elder and I bet a little of her soul is in every flower you nurture. I love, love, love this Michelle and I love you! ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dear Karen,
      Thank you so much for your kind words. You always make my heart happy 🙂
      I think I recognized her love language because I had an insightful family of cousins who lived right behind grandma. They helped me realize that love can be shown in more ways than hugs and cookies. Speaking of grandmas….how is Grandma A doing??
      Love you, too ❤ ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Love the story of you and your grandmother. I had a special grandmother too and I can remember sage advice as we broke a million green beans, hulled another million peas and shucked at least a million ears of corn! I dream of vegetables straight from the garden to the dinner table and the smell of cabbage cooking on the stove and her amazing cornbread. Now I understand why you love working in the garden so much! Thank you for the words of your past…. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. C/K – your comments sound like poetry. Isn’t there a comfort in shucking beans? One of my favorite things to do. It sounds like you have a grandma story tucked up inside your memory banks, too – I can imagine you being an amazing sidekick and partner in crime. Just now, for the first time, I have the ache for grandchildren of my own. Thank you, friend, for always being here and saying the kindest things. You rock!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. When I think of my grandmother, I hear poetry sometimes. Not that she read poetry, but she was one special lady and I was blessed beyond measure to have her the first 17 years of my life. She didn’t pass away until I was 32, but she had moved to Michigan to live with my Aunt and Uncle and I went away to college, them moved to Texas. But my daughter did get to meet her and I have pics of them together. I felt her presence around me for the longest time after she passed and she even showed up with me when I saw a friend one day, who also happens to be spiritually in tune. Refuses to call herself psychic or a medium. She described my grandmother exactly!! She told me I had brought a few people with me that day and saw my grandmother first. It was totally cool because I felt her near me for so long. I don’t feel her as often now but I think it is because she doesn’t worry about me as much anymore 😉

        Like

  4. “I wasn’t yet born, but I imagine her wearing sadness like a wooly coat—the itchy fabric weighing heavier with each of the four grandchildren she had to bury over the next several years.” GENIUS! and this whole post – genius… I think I love grandma.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I don’t even know where to begin with how much I loved this piece! Grandmas are the best and being you is the best advice because being anything but who you are is silly.

    Have a wonderful day my friend!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. A little bit better, day by day. YOUR PRESENT ARRIVED! But I think I’m going to bring it to Murica and post it internally at the end of November if that’s ok? It’s kinda heavy!

        Liked by 2 people

  6. I loved the story. In some ways she reminded me of my own grandmother. Unlike yours, she didn’t have a garden. Now that I think about it, though, the ornaments throughout the house were often suspiciously highly polished. Hmm…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow! …and that is putting it mildly Michelle. Beautifully written from within.
    And a heartfelt journey…a lifetime one, with someone who ‘knew’ much truth…and by this writing, passed it on well 🙂
    Now I understand your grounding…to put your hands and your heart in your garden, spreading it into your life, seeding and flowering with those pieces of wisdom that your Grandma gave you…a Grandma’s love, lived on in you ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, sweet Mark!
      I didn’t realize how much she lived in me until another cousin commented on the snapdragons in my garden, “Grandma would have loved those. You are just like her.”
      A compliment I’ll hold in my heart forever.
      Thank you for taking the time to read, Mark.
      Today is our first day of autumn…makes my heart happy to know that you’re heading into spring 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My pleasure kind lady, and I am enjoying the beginning of the warmth, from our Spring and your post…it was a lovely read 😀
        Also my apologies for the late comment, it didn’t come as normal, I only found it following a thread elsewhere. I think I might un-follow and re-follow you in case there is another hiccup, I almost missed a very beautiful and heartfelt post 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. It takes an amazing amount of insight to see and hear the love your grandmother had for you. I envy the relationship you had, my grandmother and I were never very close, due to family circumstances beyond either one of our control. I enjoyed this piece, viscerally, and it amazed me. I truly hope that I can write with the descriptiveness you employed. I was THERE, beside you, weeding the garden, listening to your grandmother speak, searching her face for the wistfulness of remembering times gone by. I was there, hoping for more from your grandmother, for deeper understanding of her heart and innermost thoughts. I am heartened to see that you’ve found them, through introspection, observation, and empathy. Finding the way those dearest to your heart express their love for you is a gift to be cherished, and I thank you for sharing it with all of us.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Jacey,
      WOW! What a wonderful and kind comment to start my week. Thank you so much for seeing and feeling what I was trying to convey. I am almost 50 years old, and it took me several decades to realize what gifts she has given me.
      Your kind words mean the world to me – I can’t wait to hop over and read your writing. Which…I’m going to do right now 🙂
      Thank you again!
      Michelle

      Liked by 1 person

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