It’s Memorial Weekend and my sweet peas aren’t up yet. Which is, I suppose, as it should be, since I didn’t plant any this year; my heart just wasn’t in it.
Sweet peas were my grandfather’s favorite flower. My mother loved them too. So it’s no surprise that I inherited that floral gene myself.
Memories are precious, and here on Memorial Weekend I’d like to share a story of my grandfather, a World War I veteran—and sweet peas.
In his prime, Grampa Charlie stood at 6’3” and weighed in around 220 pounds. He’d graduated from Central Washington Normal School and taught school for two years outside Tacoma. Then he earned a law degree from the University of Washington, but he never used it. In his heart, he was always a farmer.
Gramps liked working with his hands, liked to till the earth and watch things grow, and took pride in baling his own hay to feed his dairy cows
“Take a bite of this,” he said long ago, slicing off a portion of an apple with his pocketknife. “Know what kind of apple that is?”
I shook my head.
“Smell it,” said Gramps.
Dutifully, I sniffed the apple, but it didn’t reveal any useful clues.
“That’s a Gravenstein,” he explained. “Sweeter than a McIntosh. Comes on right after the Transparents and earlier than the Kings. Gravensteins are best for eating off the tree—and for making applesauce.”
I chewed my piece of apple and nodded thoughtfully, trying hard to remember everything he ever tried to teach me.
Fast-forward a few years, and now Gramps and I claimed the same alma mater. He gave me his old brass school bell “to call the kids in from recess,” and his rubber-tipped pointer “so you can point to things on the map without getting in the way.”
Another decade went by, and it nearly broke my heart when it became a necessity that Gramps, at age 94, move into a care facility where there were people who were better equiped to help him with his day-to-day challenges.
Gramps was a World War I veteran, and we found the perfect place for him to be with other men with his background. At first I worried that the people we entrusted his care to wouldn’t really listen to him; that he’d be just another old war vet.
When I went to see him one day and found his bed empty, I asked at the closest nurses’ station where I could find him. “Chuck’s out back,” I was told.
“Chuck? Who’s Chuck?”
“Well,” said the young nurses’ aid, “We already had a Charles and two Charlies, so your Grandfather said we could call him Chuck, because that was what they called him in college.”
“I never knew that.” I smiled and shook my head as I went on out the back doors.
“Chuck” was sitting in his wheelchair on the lawn, gazing out over the water.
“Hey Gramps!” I called.
He turned and smiled. “Lookie what they did for me.” He gestured to the nearby mason wall of the rest home.
A 10-foot row of colorful sweet peas had been planted along the wall, and the prolifically blooming plants were climbing up a trellis. A sign next to the flowers read “Chuck’s Pea Patch.”
Without a word, I sat on the lawn next to my Grandfather, the sweet smell of summer washing over us both.
“They really care for you here, don’t they Grampa Charlie?” I finally choked out.
“They call me Chuck,” said Gramps. “I like that.”
I liked that, too, and I never gave another thought to quality of his care.