Exploring my grandmother’s flower garden is my favorite thing to do. Every day I run down the not-so-steep hill from my house to her house, say hello to my grandfather who is sleeping on the creaky porch swing, then hop into the garden. Grandmother says I have to be careful not to trample the flowers, so I follow the path of pretty painted stepping stones. Each one pictures a different kind of flower; my grandmother says she wishes she had the creative talents to make them. Instead, my mother made them for her. My mother is an artist. My room is filled with pretty paintings she made just for me. I often see her artworks in our house, and even in my grandmother’s, too.
Grandmother usually follows me into the garden. Sometimes I sneak in by myself, though, so I can see the flowers without disturbing her. Sometimes Mother says I can’t visit her because she isn’t feeling well. On those days I pick a flower from my own garden, just in case she needs it more than I do.
Today both Grandmother and Grandfather are outside, enjoying the warm summer wind and smelling the sweet flower scent blowing upon it. Grandfather is resting on the porch swing, but I know he is awake because of the way he slowly moves the creaky swing with his feet. Grandfather is tall. He can touch the ground with his feet when he sits on the swing. My feet dangle off the side.
I step onto the first stepping stone in Grandmother’s garden, the one with a red lily flower painted on it. I like lily flowers because they have the same first name as me. I wonder if any of them have the same last name, too. I’ll have to ask Grandmother. She is standing on the purple wisteria stone, showering the hyacinth plants with water. She puts down the watering can when she sees me. Mother told me she can’t hear very well, so she doesn’t hear me coming sometimes.
“Lily! What a nice surprise. Shouldn’t you be eating lunch?”
She gives me a hug, stroking my long brown hair with her wrinkled hands. I like Grandmother’s hands.
“I finished early so I could see the flowers! Whatcha watering? Can I try?”
“How about I let you try a bit later? I just refilled the watering can, it’s really heavy. I don’t even think Grandfather could carry it!”
“Please? I can do it, I promise!”
I grab onto the handle of the watering can and manage to pull it up a bit. It’s too heavy for me, so I accidentally lose control and spill a bunch on the tulips. I hand Grandmother the can, which is now lighter.
“Sorry, Grandmother… will the flowers be okay?”
She smiles at me.
“I think they’ll be alright. We’re not supposed to get rain for a few days so I think they’ll appreciate the extra water.”
Grandmother picks me up and sits me on the short brick wall surrounding the garden, fixing the clip in my hair and placing the watering can next to me.
“Of course. It’s harder to hurt flowers than you think. Tough little things, they are. Only someone who is very very mean or very very clumsy could hurt a flower.”
I reach over and tap one of the drenched tulips with my fingernail.
“Did the flower get hurt?”
“No, it looks just fine to me. If you keep touching it over and over you might hurt it, though.”
I giggle and poke it again.
“Why would it hurt when I poke it?”
“Because the oils from your hand might hurt the petals.”
Oil? I rub my fingers together but I don’t feel any oil. Once I was cooking with Mother and got cooking oil on my hand, so I know what oil feels like.
“Grandmother, there isn’t any oil on my hand! Does that mean I can touch it now?”
“No, there is oil on your hand… I guess you’ll learn about it eventually. The flower will be alright for now. Like I said, they’re strong. They’re a bit like people.”
Grandmother grabs the handle of the watering can and starts watering the mums. I swing my feet, hitting the heels of my shoes against the red-brown brick. The sound of my shoes hitting the wall wakes up Grandfather, who snorts and goes back to sleep.
“Why are flowers like people? We don’t have petals!”
Grandmother stops watering her flowers and sits down next to me on the bricks instead.
“We may not have petals, but that’s not the only thing that could make us flowers. Just like flowers have multiple parts, so do we.”
I furrow my brows in confusion.
“But we don’t have petals or a stem or leaves.”
Grandmother stops my feet from kicking with her hand.
“We don’t need to have any of those things to be like flowers. Flowers and people live very similarly. It goes like this: we are planted here on Earth, given life by God just like a flower would be planted and given life by a gardener.”
I giggle and swing my feet again.
“You’d better be grateful we aren’t actually stuck in the ground, though. Unlike flowers, we can move around and do things for ourselves. Some flowers rely on the gardener to take care of them. Others grow wild. Same with humans. And, at the end of the season, flowers wither and die. Some of them come back the next year- those are called perennials. Some of them don’t but then they leave room for new flowers. I guess you could say people do the same.”
Grandmother slowly stands up, gently rubbing her back as she picks up the watering can again and begins watering the purple flowers which I don’t know the name of.
“Grandmother, do people come back after the season like perennials, too?”
She doesn’t look at me.
“Some people don’t think so. I do. I think that after life is over, a person can come back to be with the people they love again. The people like wildflowers let themselves and their loved ones go so they can rest in peace.”
I jump off the brick wall and stand next to Grandmother. I’m tall. My head comes up to her elbow.
“Well, when my season ends, I’m coming back to watch you water the garden every day!”
“I hope that doesn’t happen soon. You can’t possibly be tired of me after only six years, can you?”
“Six and a half. No, I want to come in your garden every day!”
“You do that anyways, Lily. I’m not complaining either.”
The garden is quiet for a minute. I hear a bird in the trees above me but I can’t see it. I see its nest, though. Grandmother continues watering her flowers.
“Grandmother, how old are you?”
I hear Grandfather laughing from his spot on the swing. Grandmother laughs too, and I laugh with her even though I don’t get it.
“No, I’m a lot older than fifteen. Grandfather is, too.”
“Is my mother fifteen? Is she… sixteen? That’s old.”
“No, she’s older than fifteen and sixteen. Not as old as Grandfather and I, though. Grandfather is older than me, I am older than your mother, your mother is older than you, and soon you’ll have a baby sister who is younger than you.”
“Ooh! Mother lets me talk to her sometimes. Next time I’m going to tell her that she’s younger than me!”
“As long as you don’t sound rude about it. You can cut a flower from the garden, but you can’t do much if it starts to wither after a few days.”
Once Grandmother gave my mother a vase full of flowers from the garden. They started to turn brown after a few days. It was sad. Once they died, Mother told me to take them to our compost pile.
“Promise me you’ll be a perennial and come back when your season ends.”
She stops watering. Grandmother smiles, but it doesn’t seem happy.
“Remembering Rose Weber. Wife, mother. 1917- 2005.”
My grandmother’s passion was growing her garden. I remember playing in it almost every day; after school, on weekends, on rainy days where my mother wouldn’t let me go out without a raincoat. Now it’s mine to take care of. She told my mother so before she died.
Walking through her garden, many good memories flow back to me. Her house is being sold soon, and they said I could pot her flowers and bring them to my own garden if I wanted. My mother says I can use the garden at her house since college dorms don’t have private backyards.
I remember what my grandmother told me when I was younger about humans being like flowers. I believed for so long that people could come bak after their death. When my grandfather died, I realized it didn’t work like I thought it did. Of course, I still believe people are like flowers. We’re special, we’re colorful, and we’re all different. My grandmother was wise to think this way. I hope I’m as wise as she is one day.
The idea of life fascinates me. It’s a cycle; maybe we don’t truly die after death. Like my grandmother told me, I still believe that we come back after we die like perennial flowers. I was quite disappointed as a child that it doesn’t work out like I thought it did, but my eyes are open and I realize I can see my lost loved ones in everything. My grandmother is especially strong in her flowers. Looking at them right now, I can see, hear, smell, and touch her. Bringing these back to my mother’s house will be keeping Grandmother with us forever. Instead of taking the whole garden, perhaps I’ll only take a few flowers and leave the rest for the new owners. Some for my mother, and some for myself. When the flowers die, the cycle will be complete.
I hope the new owners of my grandparents’ house take good care of her garden. I hope they teach their children to only step on the stepping stones and to not touch the flowers too much. Perhaps I even hope that they pass the garden on to generations, and that when my mother dies they give their own kids my old house so they can be close to their children and grandchildren. I hope my grandmother watches over them as well as me, taking care of her flowers for eternity. She promised to come back. She lives on in her flowers, and as I sit in her garden for the last time, I’m hoping she will live on in me, too.