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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Grow

My Not-so-Green Thumb










Grandma Whirley, The Orignal Whirley Bird


My Grandma Whirley had such a green thumb that she kept a fern alive for 75 years. I remember that fern well. It flowed beautifully to the floor from a table in her living room. When she died, the fern was bequeathed to my oldest cousin, Eddie. I have to check in with him to see if the fern is still with us. Personally, I am happy NOT to have been given that responsibility. My Grandma Whirley was great. She loved everything, plants, vegetables, people, and most of all us. She would be known to say things like that she worried about the "old people" when she was in her nineties and what will become of the "poor people", although she had no real wealth. On our birthdays, she would make our favorite dishes. For me, that was her fried chicken (cooked in lard at that time which sounds bad for the heart but good for the soul and tasted so good), corn on the cob, and fresh tomatoes straight from Grandaddy's garden which I remember so well, especially in spring. It was always lined with red tulips in front of the carefully laid rows of vegetables. I wonder if this inspired one of my mom's younger sisters, Aunt Bobbie, to become a florist. Grandma's famous bread-and-butter pickles were also on the menu. I now am in proud possession of the famous glass dish that held these precious gems. For dessert, there was yellow cake with chocolate icing, and if we were especially lucky, my favorite boxed ice cream, which was checkerboard vanilla and chocolate. These were the days, my friend.


Getting Older and Hopefully Wiser


As I got older and especially after her father died, I noticed that my mother always cried a little bit when we left after a visit. The first passing among us was when I was 6 years old and my grandfather Grow, my paternal grandfather, died. I was so young but I have a vivid memory of him. I can see him sitting in the chair (where later my father would sit) and my sister and I would sing hymns that he liked. I don't know how good we were but he was so happy. His favorite hymn was "In the Garden" and I sent a voice file of me singing that to my own father's funeral, which unfortunately due to Covid 19, I could not attend in person.



The Next Partings Among Us


When I was fourteen, my mother's father passed away as did my father's mother within a month of each other. The reaction to the death of their father was a blow to the Whirley girls. I never experienced such crying. Being Southern, everyone came to the oldest daughter's house bringing food. You would think, perhaps, that grief would not make you hungry. But then I would have to think you are not from the South. This was the first of my Southern funerals. There was fried chicken, potato salad, homemade rolls, cakes, pies, cookies, and whatever else you needed to eat your grief away. My cousin complained that she had a belly ache from grief eating. I guess that is a real thing! If you are Southern, we've got you covered!


The Philodendron Tragedy!


My father's mother loved to travel and perhaps, I inherited that from her. We did not look forward to her visits as she would often criticize the length of our skirts and other things. Once my Grandmother Grow came for a stop-over on one of her travels and left her beloved philodendron in my mother's care. My mother reluctantly agreed to take care of the plant while her mother-in-law went to Florida to visit two of her other children. The philodendron was thriving, dare I say flourishing, on our kitchen counter until one day, my sister and I got into a fight. At the time, I had volunteered to mash the potatoes with the electric mixer. As the fight escalated, I waved the mixer into the air to confront my sister and tragedy struck! I sucked up my strict Grandmother's philodendron into the mixer blades! Like a horror movie, stems were cut, slashed, and reduced to rubble. My mother looked so shocked. Her already alabaster skin was whiter than usual. I immediately said, "It's her fault!" pointing to my sister. She responded in kind. My mother was angry but went to bed without scolding us. She was making her next move. After a few days, a new, lovely, thriving philodendron graced our counter. My mother was betting that even her discerning mother-in-law could not detect a counterfeit. To this day, as far as I know, she pulled it off, thus saving my life.


What Gardening Means to Me Now


Now, gardening is just for relaxation and to see if I can give love and care for something beyond myself. I had a dog until last year that I took care of every day for 16 years. I walked him morning and night and often many other times as needed. In the end, he needed a lot of care as do people in their lives as well. My best friend, Rose, died of cancer 2 years ago but I was not able to be there in person to take care of her, which I really wanted to do. But I could be there for my dog, Lucky. So that was good for my soul to take care of him in his time of need. We don't know what life will bring, the good, the bad, the unthinkable, but we can take care of things and each other as best we can. So for today, I will try to keep my roses and other plants alive as a means of keeping me connected to the world around me.





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