Saturday, November 3, 2012

Grandfathers



    I have had three grandfathers.  All of them in the medical profession.  The one, a book taught gardener and religious man.  But when I think of him I think of Elephants.  He had an ancient Boxwood of the slow growing kind on the east side of his home. He called this plant, "The Elephant."  He would stand beside it, raise his hand and gaze up, that's how large it was.  He had spent a good deal of his life ministering to souls and bodies of peasant farmers in that part of China ruled briefly by Sun Yat-sen, who was "a decent enough American educated fellow."  Sun Yat-sen was followed by Chiang Kai-shek, whose sole virtue consisted in his choice of wife, Madam Chiang, who "did so much to stop the foot binding."  

    This Grandfather holds his face in my memory as an example of iron will against the impossible odds of a berry patch that included both Raspberry and Black Currant, but which had become so shaded by Apple Trees and Hawthorn, they failed again and again to produce adequate fruit for the production of jams. And this, despite a flourishing source of pectin from a quince - or Japonica, as she was called - so happy on the west wall of the domicile, her fruit tapped on the upstairs window pane.  It's the case that an ancient Black Currant does not transplant well, and as everyone knows, a Raspberry likes to travel around, and given its opportunity, it dominates a garden to the point of becoming a torment. 


    The nurturing gene, however, inclines the mind toward forgiveness, especially when found in conjunction with less pious "Christian values," and so the struggle against Raspberry endured, on and on.   But that bonfire of green canes, still rings for the expression on a grandfather's face.  I could see him through the smoke.  This wasn't a happy task for him.  More like a painful duty to root out iniquity so others might thrive, which I have always thought was why he suddenly waxed lyrical on the benefits of potash sourced from cold green bonfires that smolder on for days and rainy days, a something that can sometimes upset the close neighbors.

    And in the meanwhile my grandmother, who was also a Doctor, had become adept at making a ginger ale from a mother plant she kept in the tool shed.  It tasted "delicious," or like cough medicine.  As well she produced a fruit wine she called "cordials."  She never sampled the wines herself, but this grandfather seemed to thoroughly enjoy them around lunchtime and again in the evening.  Nor was he inclined to share that jug with me, despite my grandmother's insistence that her "cordials" contained no alcohol whatsoever because they were "homemade."  And, it was she who finally called a halt to the long practice of neighbors and of Gypsies, who'd come around Christmas time to take Boxwood trimmings from "The Elephant," for decorative wreathes and the like.  "They trimmed him so thoughtlessly," she answered me.
 

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