My Grandpa was a world champion gardener, and each night as twilight fell he’d go out and pull weeds. I liked to go out and sit between the rows and watch his hands, and while I watched, he told me stories. He told me some stories just the once; others he told me over and over, until I could repeat them myself, in his words. Even today, I can close my eyes and see him kneeling in the garden, and hear his soft, husky voice with its faint traces of his childhood German.
Listening to Grandpa taught me to listen to cadences, note characteristic turns of phrase, and play with words. In listening to his stories, I learned to see my own life as a story–or, rather, a play. Here’s a little snippet from when I was about ten. Enjoy.
SETTING: It is early evening. Bill kneels in the garden, digging weeds out carefully, tucking them into a gunny sack, then spooning dirt around the roots, trickling in water, adding a little fertilizer. Bodie kneels facing him. Beside her is a waving pile of leafy green weed tops.
BILL (looking at the pile of weed tops): Here, Bodie, let me get that. You have ta dig these things out from the bottom, see? If you leave anything—even a little piece like this (shows her a half-inch root segment)—it comes back just that much worse. Every single bit of root you leave laying around turns into a new plant. Bet you didn’t know that, huh.
BODIE: Huh uh…What’cha doin’ now?
BILL: I’m checkin’ around the roots here, just makin’ sure I’ve got all the weed roots out a the plant roots. If ya don’t, those weed roots’ll just strangle the plant right where she stands. Then, (digging carefully) when you’ve got the weed roots all out ya loosen up the dirt like this, an’ pour in a little fertilizer, an’ a little water, an’ then ya tamp the dirt down…just knuckle it in real easy, like this. Ya gotta be careful a the roots, see.
BODIE (watching): Can I help?
BILL: Why don’t’cha carry these weeds over an’ dump’em for Honey Dew and Joe? They eat’em, don’t they?
BODIE: Only if I hold’em in my hand. They’ll eat anything we hold in our hands. Watch this.
(She jumps up, hops over the garden rows, leans down, and pulls a big onion. Bill leans back on his heels and rests his hands on his thighs, trowel still held in one hand. Bodie hops down another few rows and pulls up a fistful of something else.
BILL: What’cha got there?
BODIE: Onions an’ horseradishes.
BILL: Horses don’t eat that stuff.
BODIE: Honey Dew does.
BILL: This I gotta see.
Bill stands and follows Bodie over to the fence, carrying the sack of weeds with him. Bodie leans down and slides between the strands of barbed wire, holding her onion and horseradishes close to her chest.
BODIE: Here, Honey Dew. Here girl. (A white Welsh pony lifts her head, then comes running up to Bodie.) Here you go, girl. (Bodie holds the onion out on the flat of her hand. Honey Dew takes a big bite, and then another, then chews and swallows, head bobbing, tears streaming down her beautiful white face.)
BODIE: Ya like that, girl? Here, try this. (She holds out a horseradish. Honey Dew bites into it, chews it up, and swallows it, tearing up even more fiercely. Bodie rub the pony’s nose, then her neck.) What a good girl! (Honey Dew drops her head onto Bodie’s shoulder and sighs.)
BILL (dumping the weeds over the fence): Well, I’ll be…. Here you go, girl. These gotta taste better’n onions and horseradishes.
BODIE: She won’t eat’em.
(Honey Dew walks over to the weeds, sniffs them, and walks away. Bodie leans down and picks up a handful.)
BODIE: Here, Honey Dew, here girl.
(Honey Dew turns, ears up, and hurries back to Bodie. Bodie holds the weeds out. Honey Dew lips them up and eats them with every evidence of enjoyment.)
BILL: (chuckling) Well I’ll be darned. (He watches Bodie pet the pony, then turns and looks over the yard at the children playing, then down across the river. Then he goes back to the row he has been weeding, sinks to his knees, groaning a bit, and goes back to weeding. After a while Bodie runs up to the house, then comes back with a halter.
BILL (sitting up straight to watch her again): Whatcha doin’?
BODIE: Gettin’ Honey Dew. Marie wants to give her a bath and take her in the house again.
(She clips the rope on Honey Dew’s halter and leads her out of the pasture, closing the gate behind her.
BILL: Why you wanna take’er in the house?
BODIE: I don’t. (She leads Honey Dew away)
Bill shakes his head, chuckles, and goes back to weeding.
PAM: (shouting) Marie, don’t bath’er. It’s too late. She’ll catch cold.
MARIE: (shouting back) I can’t take’er in dirty. (She turns the hose on.)
PAM: Marie, don’t. She’ll get sick!
MARIE: No she won’t. It’s warm out.
PAM: But it’ll get cold before she’s dry.
MARIE: Grandpa wants to see.
(Bill weeds on, oblivious. Bodie comes back into the garden and drops to her knees by Bill.)
BILL: What’s all the shouting?
BODIE: Marie wants to wash Honey Dew and Pam won’t let’er.
BILL: Awful late to be washin’ a horse tonight, ain’t it?
BODIE: (reasonably) She can’t take’er inside dirty.
BILL: Why’d she want to do that, anyway?
BODIE: So you can see.
BILL: She’d do that for me?
BODIE: Well sure. We all would.
BILL (looking at her, half-smiling and shaking his head): Huh. (He goes back to digging.)
BODIE: Why you goin’ so slow, Grandpa?
BILL: Cause I gotta be careful. I get in a hurry, I’ll hurt the roots.
BODIE: Daddy says we have to hurry up a lot.
BILL: Sometimes you go too fast you can get hurt.
BODIE: (sadly) Uh huh. Do girls have roots?
BILL: (chuckling) I don’t know. I suppose they might.
BODIE: I love you, Grandpa.
BODIE (shouting): I love you.
BILL (quietly): I love you, too.
BODIE: Can I give you a kiss?
BILL: (turning his head and tapping his cheek) Plant one right there.
Bodie leans forward and kisses his cheek gently, then jumps up and runs away. Bill looks after her, then shakes his head, smiles, and goes back to weeding as the sky darkens into night.