Monday, May 15, 2006

Granny G

Granny G was small in stature, with steely, gray hair cropped close to her scalp. Deceptively gentle blue eyes peered out from a soft, weathered face, accentuated by the wrinkles she had acquired through years of laughter and outdoor work, in her garden. Her whole demeanor suggested an empathetic personality, one who truly understood the trials a young woman such as I faced.

Her hands were gnarled but strong, with long attenuated fingers. Her fingernails inevitably had a layer of garden soil under them. She always smelled of her herb garden, and I learned to recognize the smell of comfrey, sage, lavender and rosemary by the scent she carried.

I can look at pictures of Granny G and she comes into sharper focus, but in my mind’s eye, through the passage of time, she seems gauzy, as if surrounded by a diaphanous mist. She was my husband’s grandmother. We took to each other quickly, recognizing kindred spirits.

I was a lonely young woman, just recently married, and pregnant, and she took me under her wing. I had moved a fair distance from my hometown to her farm, and I missed my friends, family and familiar things. At times, she felt like my savior, a port in a storm of change and emotions. Most of my feelings were confusing and very unfamiliar to me. Granny G taught me to take life as it comes, tried to teach me to let go of my tendencies to obsess wildly about the imagined, dark future I was sure was in store. If it was too early in my life to understand what she was trying so hard to convey to me, her attitude towards living in the present calmed me and taught me grace under pressure. Daily, some inner urge towards her persona and her wisdom compelled me to visit her little cabin.

Granny G’s home consisted of a kitchen/dining area, which was just large enough for a small table and two chairs, a fairy-like bathroom, and a larger living/sleeping room. This room was lined with shelves and shelves of books, with nary a work of fiction among them. Granny was only interested in books which dealt with real life, and all its foibles and joys. She would say, “Life is much, much stranger than fiction, and so much more enlightening!”...I tried to change her opinion, with youthful confidence. One Christmas, I bought her a bestseller, fiction, it was true, and she promptly gave it back to me, saying she felt I would enjoy it so much more. I gave in.

She had bunches of herbs hanging from every available space where a hook could be placed on the ceiling. At harvest time, her home’s aroma was therapy in itself…the smells of lavender and mint intermingled is still one of my favourite scents… perhaps because it is so evocative of Granny’s peaceful and serene atmosphere. After her herbs were dried, Granny packaged them, tied them with ribbon, and presented them as gifts. The recipients of her gifts more often than not used them as potpourri for dresser drawers, not having the knowledge of the healing properties contained in those packages. But Granny knew, and I learned from her, in my innocent youth, long before herbal medicine became popular and common to many households.

A pioneer gardener, Granny G found an outlet for her creativity and spirituality early in life, and she set about teaching me how to do the same. She used her gardening expertise to create a wonderful retreat, and she meditated there. As a result, these many years later, I do the same. My garden has soothed my soul too many times to count, and it is one thing I can always rely on.

She created wonderful altars to the fairies…her lords and ladies…everywhere nature proliferated. And proliferate it did, because Granny was born with an inherent knowledge of the natural order of gardening…she used organic methods during a time when chemicals were the order of the day. One of her favorite fertilizers was comfrey tea…she would mix the huge, prickly comfrey leaves with a little manure and water, and leave it to steep in the hot, semi-desert sun until the liquid reached a dark greenish amber. Then, once it turned the colour of a deep green bog, she would mix it half and half with water, and let it flow amongst the roots of her plants, a drop at a time. And her garden flourished.

Granny also drank comfrey tea. It was one of her favourite remedies for any malaise. She would laud its properties to all and sundry, but had very few takers. It tasted horribly bitter. She would not allow me to drink it, in my present pregnant position, but I did taste it. Granny would steep the leaves a long while in boiling water, and it was foul. Whether the comfrey had anything to do with it or not, I never saw Granny under the weather. She swore it was due to her comfrey tea.

Granny’s gardening expertise was never in doubt, but her healing tinctures sometimes were. I was warned not to go near her home if I had a cold or any other malady. Granny would immediately dose any sick person with whatever concoction she deemed necessary. And she was not concerned with taste…in fact…she believed the worse it tasted, the better it was.

Her potions may not have been popular, but I had belief in Granny, so they worked on me. She kept her handwritten remedies in a big old black book, and for the first few pages, she extolled the virtues of positive thinking. I was so taken with this idea, I started my own book, one I still have. And I began it by copying some of Granny’s phrases. In this way, I began to think about the brighter side of things. I began to notice the small miracles surrounding me. I began to notice my own negative way of thinking. She made me want to change…she made me think I could.

We did not have long together, Granny and I. She was a part of my everyday life for a couple of years in my very early adulthood. She taught me about life’s rhythms, using her garden as a metaphor. In the early spring, when we wandered through her barren garden, she would point out signs of life, greeting each arrival as an old friend. She showed me a new circle of life was opening, bringing hope and expectations not yet experienced.

In the late fall, after mounding the fallen leaves over the cleaned garden beds, tucking in stray leaves here and there, Granny showed me how the circle closed once more. Wiping her hands on her trousers, she would sigh with satisfaction, and not a little melancholy, over the ending of a gardening season. Then, with a shrug, she would wander into her home in search of a comforting cup of tea, and her gardening books.

We were an odd pair, the young and the old. And in the time we had together, Granny taught me about joy and sorrow, good things and bad…there, amongst her plants…and she taught me that there was always a new day, another season.

Granny showed me her view of life, to the betterment of mine.

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