By the time I was ten, I had helped
Grandpa with his garden for four summers in a row. And just so you get the picture, my grandpa didn’t ‘just’ have a garden. He had a G-A-R-D-E-N. And his gardens? They never happened by accident. He’d noodle on ideas all winter long. By the end of February, he’d have his notes together. He knew what he wanted to plant and where each would go. He knew how much space they were going to need. He knew when they needed to go into the ground and he knew what their nutritional requirements were. Grandpa knew a lot about a lot of things but ‘earth stuff’ was one of his best. If it grew, or had a life cycle, he knew about it. And if he didn’t, he knew how to find out.
For me, being his right-hand dirt kid was a source of great pride. Maybe it was the genetic part of me that’s ‘farmer’ or maybe it was just watching the snow begin to melt. But every Spring, I could feel the anticipation rising like sap – getting ready to go to work. Seeing him chart out our season on his kitchen calendar was a sure sign that the work really was about to begin. I know now, that at 10, I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew, but one thing was true. I was happy when I was in Grandpa’s G-A-R-D-E-N.
Finally, the appointed week arrived and we spent hours prepping the soil. It was sweat-dripping work, but I didn’t care…there was a point. We had started the adventure.
Truth be told, the part that really made my ten-year old boys’ heart beat faster was the actual planting. While I couldn’t verbalize it (back then), the ritual of it all made me feel so connected to Life. That particular Spring was no different.
We were planting beans, peas, cucumber and tomatoes. Just a little further over, onions, potatoes, turnips and asparagus were going in too. And like me, none of the seeds he’d so carefully selected really looked like they were going to amount to much of anything. But somehow I knew each one of them was just waiting to wake-up and grow into their carefully ordered rows, each with a hand-lettered marker stick out front.
Having been in WWI as an artillery spotter, the war had left Grandpa deaf. So him, having a hearing aid in each ear, meant we didn’t talk much while we worked. But then again, it was the contented silence, occasionally punctuated by the slice of a shovel or the rattle of a rake I remember today.
One by one, we checked off the rows. Each one completed, meant one less to go. Having started around 7AM, we were finally beginning to run out of land. And running out of land meant we were ready to plant the corn…always the last ten rows in Grandpa’s kingdom.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…this year was different. As we stopped to take a breath before we started the corn, Grandpa handed me the glass Mason jar of seed. “Here, let’s get started; you’re going to plant ’em this year.” And with that, he began to teach. And me? I didn’t even know class had started.
“Let me show you how to do one. See, plug a hole like that with the end of your rake.”
Bursting with pride, I said “OK”, and with great ceremony, proceeded to start plunging a line of seed-ready holes in the turned up soil. I knew this part frontwards and backwards. “Now what?”
“Go back and drop the seed in that very first hole, just the one.”
I said, “OK. But just one kernel?”
Ignoring me (being deaf had its advantages), he continued the lesson; “Now cover it up.”
“OK, but that was just one, I’ve got at least 199 more holes.” I remembered wondering at times like this if grandpa had spent way too much time in the sun.
“Now, water it.”
“Now, jump up and down on it and yell ‘GROW’ as loud as you can”.
What?!? Now I knew he had lost it.
“Just do it. We don’t have all day.”
So I did. Feeling the fool, I started stomping, jumping up and down on that one poor kernel for all I was worth. “Grow seed. GROW!”
He signaled I’d jumped enough and I stopped, really wondering what was going on. I’d watched him enough to know how to plant seed and I’d never seen him stomp. I just didn’t get it.
“Grandpa, seeds don’t grow ’cause you beat ’em up. Jeesh Grandpa, don’t you know anything?”
Not really looking at me, he bent down to wash his hands in our bucket. As he dried them off with the help of his overalls, he sort of smiled, “You’re right. Yelling and stomping doesn’t mean much to the plants.”
“And what about the seeds?”
“Oh they know what to do. You can’t rush them. Our job is make them feel welcome.”
Wow! In one blinding flash, Boy grows a whole lot smarter, about a whole lot of things.
I finished the afternoon’s rows coming to understand the same rules work for people too.
I’ve grown so much since then. I’m so much happier than I ever thought possible. But for all of that progress, there are still behavioral evidences that bite me in the butt at the most unexpected times.
Case in point was this past week. While I don’t really understand all of it, I didn’t at all feel like myself. I was absent-minded, irritable and void of patience for anything or anyone I deemed stupid. Some of my ‘old dan’ stuff was in full ascendency. Despite all my analysis, I never really came to grips with what exactly I should be doing to counter the onset of my blues. I hate that.
And then, I remembered Grandpa watching me, stomping corn.
Gaining healthy behaviors is a lot like a garden. New behaviors and habits takes preparation. And after they’ve been planted, there’s a whole lot of weeding (and watering). There are pests and bad weather to contend with. And deer. But it’s also what fills me with admiration for the farmer. Not one of them ever has a guarantee of success in the Spring. But every year, they go out and do the work again (just like Grandpa and me).
Part of me must have known I needed to remember his Life Lesson gift, all wrapped up in stomping corn. Ding! I remembered how important it is to treat myself as gently as we tended to those seeds and seedlings. It’s calming to realize the new and improved Me is never going to be finished. It’s a gift to know I will be a work-in-progress until the day after I die. And it doesn’t happen over night. It takes a while to get to the point where you harvest.
What each of us does in the ‘tick-tock’ matters. The very nature of each new birthday comes attached to a sunset; every planting has a harvest. And if we play our cards right, we’ll be learning and adapting till it’s our turn to die. It’s what connects the hours.
If you’re in a place in your life where you stomp on yourself – or those around you, stand back and take a deep breath. I mean, really, step back and breathe.
If you’re yelling at yourself so loudly it’s tough to hear goodness, take a lesson from the seeds. Gently close your mouth, and look up.
It’s good to lay out the planting plan for your Life. It’s good to do the planting. But there’s also an art to being patient and just letting it happen. You will grow into what you were designed to be – unique, alive and filled with goodness that others need. How do I know? Because Grandpa knew, even after he was gone, there was a part in me that would never forget how to plant.
Today, my life has become a lot like my healthy stand of corn. Be patient. Tend to yourself everyday and render yourself the care you need to grow. It’ll feel like it did for me the following October. “Oh, the corn? Yeah, they’re mine. I planted all of them this year.”
“My Wish” by Rascal Flatts – Happy planting…
Mid PhotoCredit: www.thedailygreen.com