When I was in fourth grade my parents and I moved to a new house and my grandmother – GaGa – moved in with us. (That’s a funny name to write now in the days of Lady Gaga – but we actually pronounced it “Gaw-Gaw” and I can assure you there’s no relation). GaGa’s first floor bedroom was directly beneath my second floor one, so at age nine I began to learn how to walk softly and listen to music on headphones (they were big as a helmet back then).
One of the things I think of first when I remember GaGa was how she loved to eat bread. Actually we have decided it must be genetic as it seems to be a family trait to crave biscuits, rolls, breadsticks, even crackers. She was also wild about tomatoes. At dinner, she would always ask, “Does anyone want that last slice of tomato?” My parents would always smile at each other and make a big deal of sacrificing the last tomato to her – but they always let her enjoy it.
My grandmother was a seamstress, an embroiderer, an organist, a cook, and a collector of owls. But above all GaGa loved plants. She knew the name of every flower, bush, shrub, weed and plant that could grow in our area. Out of habit she sometimes called them by her own special name: for example, what most people would call a croton, she called the Florida plant – because she had gotten her first one in Florida, of course.
She loved to dig in the dirt and nurse a failing plant back to life. I can see her in the heat of summer in long pants, long sleeves, and a wide-brimmed hat covering her sweat rag that she tied around her head. She really did have a green thumb.
After I grew up, got married and my husband and I had our first child, we built a house with a hillside in the back and talked of planting a “rock garden” where the land fell away. I knew my grandmother could help us choose the right combination of plants, but we never got around to it.
We finally landscaped and planted our rock garden the year GaGa died. Several plants and basket gardens were sent to our family in her memory. We used many of those, and purchased other plants that we knew were her favorites, to start our rock garden at last. I remember our daughter snapping the snapdragons and checking the “high-biscuit” (hibiscus) flowers every day to be sure they weren’t blooming more than they were allowed. We moved from that house long ago, but I can recall that little garden so well and I hope it is still there.
We have planted all kinds of other growing things at the different places we have lived since then, and just tonight we went by our daughter and son-in-law’s house to see all the garden work and landscaping they had just finished in preparation for a party they are hosting tomorrow. Maybe gardening is genetic, too. GaGa would be so pleased to know that her love of plants lives on.