Carrying fresh flowers, vegetables, and herbs harvested from an overflowing pea patch into the house in a wicker basket has always seemed like a fantasy. I envy people who have vases of fresh flowers sitting on polished dining room tables. Gardening takes time, I haven’t spent time on myself and an over-extended schedule has prevented either scenario from happening.
However, since given the pink slip last year I am going to make a veiled attempt at converting the pink slip into a pink carnation. Carnations were one of the flowers that my grandfather, Opa, grew. Opa, Oma, Uncle Fred, and my mother immigrated during World War II. Other than that little tidbit, there was little history shared. Asking questions seemed out of the question. Without history, calling my mother's parents Opa and Oma at times seemed strange, but that was just the way it was. Opa took pride in his yard and his roses, carnations, and fruit trees.
Opa and Oma’s West Los Angeles small bungalow had a professionally manicured postage stamp size lawn. One of the professions my blonde haired, blue-eyed German grandfather worked at when I was a child was as a gardener. The other was counting screws and putting them in plastic bags with a label. I remember riding along with him when he dropped boxes of screws off at the manufacturing site. I didn't question. I wish I had.
A tired station wagon sat in the driveway of their house. When visiting, I would see two wooden planks leaned up against the back bumper and Opa rolling the lawn mower in. Then Opa would be off to tend to someone's lawn. My childhood memories are fragmented. I am jealous of people who can name their first grade teacher or the color of their birthday party dress when they were twelve. I do remember visiting the home of a very wealthy man with a Bel Air estate address. I went on a tour of this house and I remember that there were no doorknobs in this modern home. I have a ghostly memory of being trapped in the bathroom, but I learned that there were pressure points on the doors and cupboards that you pushed to open them. The relationship between Opa and this man seemed to be more than employer and employee. I didn't question. I wish I had.
Opa gardened wearing a pith helmet. I loved to wear his helmet and play safari. Rows of lawn chairs would be set up under the three fruit trees in his small yard and I would imagine that I was the bus driver taking the tourists through the African savannah. Opa had a roofed patio at the back of the house that was set up as an outdoor living room. There was plenty of furniture to set up my bus. I also took many naps on visits to their house on the patio's lawn swing, lulled to sleep with the smell of chives that were always growing to garnish cottage cheese.
My other Grandpa also had an accent. My memories of him consist of an old man who hid in a spare room or old trailer, drinking. He was not to be disturbed. He did, however, make sure that Grandma always had a garden to harvest.
I never had much of a relationship with my other grandpa. His physique was identical to Opa's, his accent Norwegian. Family stories were that he worked on a wealthy French aristocrat's farm in Norway. The Chamber of Commerce in the Midwest recruited Scandinavian farmers who could grow crops in the harsh climate of the Dakotas. My grandpa answered the call and in the late 1800s he landed at Ellis Island. His family name was common, Olson. When he landed at Ellis Island, he signed his name using the farm that he worked. That is why my Norwegian grandfather had a French name and why I do too. While cold climate farming lured him to the United States, he left the Dakotas and lived out his years in an old trailer behind his house in Southern California, drinking life away. Never the less, Grandma always had vegetables to harvest every year.
Playing in dirt is a legacy that was given to me by both of my grandfathers.