It was planting time again and I had been thinking long and hard in response to Papa's question,
"Sissy, what do you want to plant in the garden this year?"
We were going shopping for seeds on Saturday and I knew now exactly what I was going to buy. Papa and I had the finest garden in the whole town of Bodfish. It tiered three levels down the slope of our hill between our house and Papa's. It ran against the property line which was marked with a row of fruit trees. Apple, peach, and apricot were some of my favorites. I had the honored duty each year of operating the garden hose and was prepared to do the same that year.
There were three more school days until Saturday and we had work to do until then. Papa and I had our days filled with a hectic routine. When our rooster, Goldie crowed from the old oak tree, Papa was already up and getting ready to take Grandma to work.
Grandma had a real important job as the Postmaster in Bodfish. She got to dress up and wear high heels every day. Everyone in town loved her and came to visit her at the post office each day to pick up their mail.
I too, started each day early, always making time for my morning visit with Papa and breakfast after Grandma went to work. As I walked down the hill to Papa's house each morning, I went a little faster as the smell of bacon in the air got stronger. Around the house and up the steps I went, right into the kitchen where Papa had scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and a glass of cold chocolate milk already set out on the kitchen table just for me. As we ate, we talked about many of our favorite things like baseball, fishing, jeep rides, or gardening.
I wasn't old enough to go to school yet, but it was my job to sit in the front seat right next to the steps and say hello to each kid as they got on and off of Papa's school bus. After breakfast we loaded onto the donut bus. It was smaller than the other school buses but that didn't matter. It was a special bus. After the morning bus run we took care of our chores. We were responsible for so many things. Our days were very busy.
Papa's most prized possession was his old red jeep.
"This jeep is part of the family," he would say.
Many days we worked on the jeep to keep it in top condition.
It seemed like no time at all had passed when Papa would glance at his wrist watch and say,
"Well it's time to go get the kids from school."
He would put on a clean straw hat and we were off again. After returning from the afternoon bus run, Papa went to pick up Grandma from the post office, and it was time for me to head back home. Sometimes I would help Papa pick her up, but most days I was just too tired and could barely walk back up the hill to our house.
Mama was always waiting for me when I arrived. She spent all day taking care of my new sister, Stacie. Sometimes Mama surprised me with a new dress or other things she had made me during the day.
Saturday morning didn't come soon enough. I was waiting at the window when I saw the jeep climbing the hill. Mama quickly tied the scarf over my hair as I ran out the door and climbed in the jeep.
"First," Papa said, "We are going to stop by Jack's market and pick us up a snack. After that, Mr. Saba should have the nursery open and we'll get everything we need to get the garden started today. I hope you've been thinking about what you want to plant this year."
I nodded back with a huge grin.
Mr. Saba was one of the nicest men I knew. He knew me by name and always had a special plant ready for me each time we visited. Daddy loved to plant trees and flowers too, and sometimes I would visit with him. That day Mr. Saba greeted us with a cactus for me to take home. I couldn't wait to bring it back and put it on the kitchen window sill with my others.
I always got thirsty while I was there and Mr. Saba let me use the water cooler in his shop. He was the only one I ever knew that had a water cooler.
"So what brings you here today?," Mr. Saba asked Papa.
"Well, Sissy and I are getting ready to plant our garden," Papa replied. "We are going to need fertilizer and some seeds today."
"Wonderful, I am sure I can get you what you need," Mr. Saba replied. "The fertilizer is easy, now what seeds are you going to plant this year?"
I was getting excited as Papa started naming our usual items, "Carrots, beets, tomatoes, egg plant, squash, and what else am I forgetting, Sissy?"
"Peanuts and watermelon!," I shouted excitedly.
"Now those sound like winners. Peanuts and watermelon it is Mr. Saba," Papa repeated.
Mr. Saba loaded the big bags into the back of the jeep and then handed me a paper bag full of seed packets. Papa and Mr. Saba shook hands and we were on our way back home. I held the cactus in my hands all the way, making sure not to get poked.
Papa backed the jeep right up to the garden spot,
" Why don't you go up to the house and have your Mama put your new cactus on the window sill. I'll unload the big bags while you’re gone and then we'll get started when you get back."
I ran up the hill to show Mama my newest cactus.
"So what did you get to plant in the garden," she asked.
"Peanuts and watermelon," I said proudly. "I've got to get back, Papa's waiting for me. We have a lot of work to do.”
When I got back to the garden, Papa had all of our tools lined up. He took the hoe and I took the spade. I had done this before, so I knew exactly what to do. Papa dug and I turned it over. Once in a while we would find a giant night crawler. We threw them in the bucket to save for fishing. The jeep knew the way to a lot of good fishing spots too. We had the lake, the river, and the flume nearby.
We continued to work the dirt until Grandma arrived with split pea soup and ham sandwiches. We took a break and had a picnic right there in the dirt. When we were finished eating, we continued to make rows.
"Now which garden level are we going to want to plant the special seeds on?", Papa asked.
"Right on the top level. I think they will get more sun that way and right next to the well, more water," I said.
"Alright then, that's where they'll go," Papa replied.
After the rows were complete, we were ready to plant. I poked my finger in the dirt and then Papa dropped in the seeds. All the way across the rows we went, until all the seeds were planted.
"I'll go turn on the hose, if you think you can handle sprinkling the garden very carefully,” Papa said.
"Oh yes, I’ve got the hose,” I shouted confidently.
After sprinkling the garden ever so carefully, our crop was well on it's way to a great harvest. Papa kissed me good night as I headed back up the hill.
Day after day Papa and I took care of our garden and watched the rows begin to sprout. The sprouts turned into vines, and finally they began to bloom. It wasn't long until we began to see the fruit beginning to grow from the blooms.
Each day I held the garden hose so proudly and watered the plants just right, taking care not to drown them.
"You are very good with the hose," Papa would say.
My little watermelon was growing bigger and bigger, but the peanuts didn't seem to be doing very well.
"Well, Sissy, we are just learning to be peanut farmers. I am sure that they will come around soon," he would encourage.
He was right. It wasn't long until one day, we had lots and lots of peanuts on every vine. Just like the kind we got at the baseball games. And my watermelon was the biggest I had ever seen.
"We did it Papa!", I exclaimed. "We are peanut farmers!"
I ran up the hill to get Mama. I ran down the hill to Daddy's shop and told him to come to the garden too. Grandma came out of her house to see what the commotion was. Everyone met at the garden, where I proudly shared our success.
Papa cut the watermelon from it's vine and placed it in the back of the jeep. It barely fit inside as he cut a piece for everyone with his pocket knife. It was the sweetest watermelon I had ever tasted.
I picked peanuts, one by one and handed some to everybody- I couldn't believe it. We had done such a good job, the peanuts even grew with salt on them.
"So, what should we plant next year?," Papa asked.
"Well, I'm going to have to really think about it," I said. "I should know by the time we go to Mr. Saba's next year."
"I can't wait', Papa laughed, "I can't wait."
It wasn't until I had children of my own, that Papa and I were recalling this event when I realized the true meaning behind the peanuts and watermelon. Knowing how important the harvest was to me at that age, Papa had driven the jeep all over town searching for the biggest watermelon he could find. He also bought a large bag of peanuts. On his hands and knees, he meticulously glued each peanut to the vines. He discarded the smaller watermelon only to replace it with the biggest one in town. He shared with me the joy of a grandfather to see such excitement come from a child.
Here we were, now two adults weeping in each others’ arms as I realized the extraordinary love of my Papa.
Carie- I loved this story! I also loved the way you talked about this as an adult and the meaning it has for you. I can't wait to read the next installment of your childhood stories!
Now that statement at the end made me cry! This is an extraordinary Man you called Papa. I love him! Oh what a wonderful childhood and such a loving family. Thank you for giving me ideas when I too get to be a grandparent. I will cherish this job as a gift from God.
Whatever it is that makes a story special, that something is in this one. Of course, your Grandpa was so special that the story compels us to love him as someone we can cherish. A book (or a story) that is worth reading is worth reading again. And I just did.