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Memories: Measuring the Garden

July 26, 2013
Note: A very fantastic cousin of mine is putting together a family memory project. She’s having all of our family members submit our memories of matriarch and patriarch so that she can give this to them while they’re still alive. You know how so many people wait until those they loved have died to honor them? That’s no fun. I’m going to post some of the memories I submitted here, because really, you can never have too much love in the world, and your life is invariably made richer by sharing it.

A few years ago, (remember that horrible recession and those entitled, lazy Millennials?) I was having trouble finding work, and was feeling completely down on myself. Feeling alone, and with lots of spare time on my hands, and knowing that in the future I might not be so lucky, I would head down to Grandma and Granddad’s to stay for a few days. They would always think up something for me to do as an excuse to give me a little bit of cash. That wasn’t the reason I visited them, (really, if you are lucky enough to have such loving family, comfort during your darkest times is priceless), but it even token amounts of cash went a long way towards countering the steady rise in gas prices.

Granddad wasn’t feeling too well. In fact, he had a heart problem, and thanks to his firmly held opinions that all doctors are bastards and hell-bent on delivering nothing more than unnecessary medical bills, he was refusing treatment, so each step he took was followed by an even slower one. We decided that I would help him plant his garden that year. And by “we decided,” I mean that my aunt called me and told me that that was what I was going to do. And when I arrived, walking through the door of the back porch, wading through a sea of barking lap dogs, he was beaming and ready for me with his carefully drawn garden blueprint. This is Granddad’s way. He’s always considered himself an artist, and he loves supervising, which, piled on top of the lifelong career as the type of tradesman who built much of DC (like the Watergate) = the type of vision and willpower that you might say would leave you standing and unscathed after a house collapsed on top of your head. (Yep, for real). He had everything meticulously planned out and you could tell he always brightened when he had something in mind for you to do. First, he said, I needed to hoe the garden.

granddad and his boat

So hoe I did. The next morning was surprisingly sunny, and hot. The ground was surprising dry and unyielding. The plot was surprisingly large, much larger than it had seemed before I started hoeing. And so I stood there, pounding away, my arms finding joy in repetitive slamming, sweat dripping, and I hear Granddad slowly making his way out the back door. Breath, pant. Shuffle. Stop. Shuffle. Breath. Stop. Until he made it outside, and sat in a chair, and supervised: alternating brief sundappled naps with a watchful eye and a critique of my garden-hoeing form. Hours passed, until finally it was ready. But then, on Granddad time, our day’s work was done. Time for TV, a nap, and dinner, and another nap.

The next day, the garden was ready for measuring. I woke up eagerly, having eaten breakfast and finished my coffee in a semi-efficient manner, but Granddad insisted all at good time. Meaning, we had to finish certain TV shows, and naps, and bathroom breaks, and all in good time before we could measure. What’s the rush, Mattie? Around 2 pm we made it outside. And the process was slow, but Granddad was ready. He had his blueprint, sunglasses, hat, boots, and workpants; and we had our gloves. In that beautiful spring sunshine, we took a ruler, stakes, a hammer, and twine, measuring and staking out rows for beans, tomatoes, corn, and potatoes. We tied strings in perfectly straight lines along each row. Sometimes our row wasn’t straight enough (it was my fault, always, with my impatience), so we’d do it again. End Day 3.

Day 4: I learned from Day 3 to take my time getting ready to go outside, because I needed to alot the proper amount for breakfast, morning TV, naps, and bathroom, and I embraced it. To a point. By the time I was ready, Granddad was still somewhere in Step 6 of the 24 step process, so I went out alone. I was digging holes for seedlings. After an hour or so, Granddad came out to supervise. Shuffling, heavy breathing, and he inspected my work carefully with a tape measure: width, breadth, depth, to make sure the holes conformed to proper tomato seedling measurements. A few needed more depth, a few less breadth, and me all the time thinking it wasn’t a big deal: tomatoes would grow regardless, and they were still seedlings yet. He positioned himself on a chair in the sunshine, alternating a watchful eye with a little bit of snoring.  When the holes I dug for baby tomatoes would inevitably stray from the string, or the perfection of the straight row, or got too deep, or too shallow, he’d point it out.

Eventually, and with little fanfare, we completed the garden, and I like to think we were all happy. I remember Granddad smiling, Grandma telling me how much she was looking forward to fresh tomatoes that summer.

I got word of a job not much later. Was I able to apply greater patience, vision, and attention to detail when I started work? I like to hope so.

Three years later, I found myself on an international consulting trip through business school. After completing our project, with me always chafing under incessant discussion of what I considered the minor details of the problem, I went to visit ancient stone temples that monks had spent hundreds of years carving out of a mountain face.  Generations of monks would follow, one upon the other, to complete a vision and a blueprint that had been etched out centuries before. Each one would chisel calmly at the mountainside, day in and day out. Each artist carried on his shoulders the burden and the weight, not only of the mountainside, but the recreation of story and myth and religion, the hopes and frustrations of those who had proceeded before, and the understanding of those who would follow.

As I knelt down to take a photo, I noticed that the bases of the pillars of this ancient masterpiece were not aligned: some filed perfectly parallel, while others were askew. Tragically comical – their bases careened off course, disrupting the entire flow of all of the pillars that preceded them.

pillars ellora

Granddad would never have let that happen.

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