Friday, 3 May 2013

Forget Me Not

It's another gorgeous, blue sky morning in my world, with a brisk breeze that has the flags outside my office window crackling on their poles.

The riot of spring bulbs that bloom here every year are just about done now and, as they fade, our attention is drawn to the tiny, blue blossoms of forget-me-not that grow between them.  

I love these little flowers. Every time I see them, they remind me of my grandpa.

Grandpa was a big man, with craggy features and silver hair.  Looking at his photos as an adult I realize he was quite handsome in a black and white movie "hard man" kind of way, but as a child he was just Grandpa; ever-present, eternal, and comforting.  

My grandfather was partial to soft cotton shirts in glen plaid, and carried a pocket watch, on a chain.  The thumb and forefinger of his right hand were stained mahogany brown from the hand rolled cigarettes he smoked, and he always smelled of tobacco, Vicks mentholatum, and the Scotch mints he carried in his pocket.  

Grandpa was a railroad man, working for a great many years as a conductor on the CPR trains that ran between Vancouver and Kamloops. Until he retired, he was often away from home.

When he was home, my grandfather was an enthusiastic gardener.  He had a large, very productive vegetable garden in the back yard of my dad's childhood home, with neatly planted rows nestled into dark, loamy soil running all the way to the back fence.  He practiced excellent culture there, turning the soil by hand each spring, carefully screening out any roots and weeds, and then augmenting it with a mixture of compost and manure.  The garden, in its turn, rewarded him with tremenduous yields.  I grew up eating Grandpa's vegetables.

My grandma's perennial flowers didn't fare so well under my grandpa's care.  His habit of turning every inch of soil every single year did not favour their longevity.  Grandma continued to plant perennials in the hope they would flower a second year, but with the exception of her roses - which Grandpa cherished like babies - they rarely survived the spring purge.

Annuals, especially if they were self seeding, were another matter entirely:  They loved the rich soil and carefully guarded growing conditions my grandpa's garden provided, and shot up in a riot of colour every single year. Among them were always forget-me-nots and pansies, who actually benefited from having their seeds spread throughout the garden when Grandpa sifted the soil.

So it was that every spring my grandfather would arrive at our door, packets of newspaper wrapped plants in hand.  He would bring me a clump of forget-me-nots, nestled in their newspaper with a good quantity of rich black soil still clinging to their roots. We would venture out into the front garden of my childhood home and carefully choose a spot to plant them. 

I remember the planting ritual very distinctly:  The clearing away of any weeds, the snick of the trowel taking the first bite of soil, the careful digging of a planting hole and loosening of the soil around it, and finally the placement of the plant.  I can still see my grandpa's hands in my mind's eye - broad, with strong fingers and squared fingernails, the black of the soil worked into cracks in his skin - as they gently patted the soil back into place and I remember him saying, every single year in exactly the same way, "I'm giving you forget-me-nots so you'll remember me when I'm gone."  

I'd never experienced the loss of a loved one so I had no understanding of what Grandpa meant by "when I'm gone," but I did have a very clear understanding of the great love behind this annual gift of flowers and planting.

My grandfather passed away in 1978 - a long time ago now - but every single spring this precious gift of memory is returned to me.  I see a forget-me-not and he is with me again, immediate and true.  

I cannot imagine a better gift than that.