Sadly, I never knew him as he and my other grandfather both died the shortly before I made my way into this world. I did have my grandmother though for eight precious years. My grandmother was a hardy woman, the mother of five sons and chain smoker of Marlboro Reds. Everything in her house was tinted brown from her smoking, giving all my memories a very distinct haze. To cover up the cigarette smell, my grandmother laid bowls of mothballs around the house which, of course, just made the house smell like mothballs and cigarettes. She was a true Southerner and kept a skillet of bacon grease at the ready. Everything had meat in it, usually floating alongside clouds of milky lard. My cousin Amanda and I spent a lot of time at her house, drawing up plans for our horse farm and chasing never-aging kittens around the backyard that were named things like Smokey or Blackie. We spent hours in our grandmother's backyard, climbing the great magnolia tree or making bridges across the little stream at the back. Our grandmother would call us in for lunch and we would find our food, usually a plate of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, laid out on a towel in front of the television. We would lay on our stomachs and drink cola through a straw as the giant hourglass appeared on the screen, the signal that it was time to be quiet. Our grandmother would sit rapt in her blue and green plaid easy chair as the doctors and rich housewives and sinister ex-boyfriends all plotted against each other. When the program was finished, she would turn off the television, declare the rest of the shows to be garbage, then shoo us out the backdoor again. There we would stay until called in again for dinner.
My grandmother was a gruff woman, almost handsome but not anything approaching pretty. She wore pants most of the time and if she did put on a dress, she still looked like she was wearing pants.
She was an avid gardener. Her yard was full of gardenias and hydrangeas and shrimp plants and azaleas and so many more than I can remember. Her yard was lush and endless, full of grasshopper and honeybees and shadowy places to hide. As a small child it was my whole world.
After she died the land was sold. At first the new owners just parked their landscaping vehicles on it and the yard was desolate. Then they expanded the business, first to mulch and landscaping supplies and now to plants. Since returning, I have sped past regularly but never stopped until today.
The blue and white house my grandparents built and raised sons and grandchildren in remains in tact. Behind it still are the two little sheds and the garage that once housed my grandmother's Grand Marque (a car I thought was by rights my grandmother's car from the name alone as she was called Grandma Key). Many of the trees are still there, giant as they ever were. And amidst these landmarks was a beautiful spread of potted plants, model ponds, gravel, and many more plants.
There is something so right and just about seeing my dearly departed grandmother's yard again full of gardenias and hydrangeas and shrimp plants and azaleas and so many more plants than I can remember. And to see my children run around where I used to play, on the very bricks that she put into the earth, well, I can only hope my grandmother can see that as well.