I usually like shopping for groceries. Gives one sort of an hunter-gatherer charge. At least as much of an H-G C as I currently seem able to get. Yet, there are those days. The days when you would rather be someplace else rather than shopping. Anywhere else. It was in such a tepid frame of mind that I found myself a day or two ago upon my mid-afternoon arrival at the Giant Discount Store to provender the home. My wife ill. Not feeling too dandy myself. Exhausted is the word I am looking for. Just definitely not in the mood. For anything.
My typical path into the GDS is through the garden department because it is close to where I always park. Norwegian boys are nothing if not habitual. As I navigated my psychic fog en route to the pet food section, I came across the huge display of newly arrived flowers depicted above. I stopped still. And I thought of my grandmother.
If you look up Swedish grandmother in the encyclopedia, my grandma Emily has her photo there. She was born in 1900 and grew up on a farm in northeast Minnesota, second of fourteen siblings. Some lived to adolescence, some didn't. As soon as she was of age, she ran off to the nearest city to become a domestic servant for a wealthy [Swedish] family. She lived in the basement of their home.
My grandma dispelled me of what I now call my First Walden Pond Phase. At the wise age of eleven, I was outdoors helping her hang up laundry on a rope clothes line to dry. Swedish grandmothers do not acknowledge any other valid method of drying clothes. It has something to do with the Nordic breezes and all that. I took it upon myself to ask her how on Earth she could have left the pastoral heaven of a dairy farm to work as a [gasp] maid in someones home. Grandma Emily never even glanced my way before saying:
Have you ever lived on a farm?
Well, when you live on a farm, you have to get up at dawn every day and start work. And you work all day long. Every day. And you never get to keep one cent of the money. When I got the chance to be a maid, live in a mansion, do dusting and laundry, and have money of my own to keep, I got off that farm and I never went back.
She picked up the laundry basket and strode away. Swedish grandmothers stride. That is what they do. My grandma Emily was a fantastic baker. She made the best potato dumplings with bacon inside, draped with melted butter. She had a [Swedish] crystal bowl on the table in her shotgun home in Duluth full of wax fruit. The furnishings and draperies of her little house were of the highest quality. Because she scrimped and saved and then bought exactly what she saw in the home of her employer. The [Swedish] best. My grandma loved professional wrestling and used to become VERY aggravated with my [Norwegian] grandfather when he would mumble that it was "rigged". She served tomato aspic [gelatin] with little shrimp and chopped celery to honored guests and thought it the height of elegance. She loved picking berries in the woods and once came face to face with a black bear while doing so. She walked away. I'm not sure what happened to the bear.
But most of all, my grandma loved flowers. The back yard of the small home she shared with my grandfather for fifty years was resplendent with flowers. Not an easy trick in Minnesota. She loved any sort of flower, any color, any size. She never once cut any of them from their stems to bring them inside the house. I never asked her why.
Grandma Emily went home ahead of me many years ago. I hadn't thought of her in a while. Until I walked into the garden department of the GDS and saw the towering display of new, blooming flowers. Hundreds of kinds. Hundreds of colors. I stopped moping in my fog to gaze in wonder at the beauty of it all. For a moment I was a six year old boy in that tiny, arboreal back yard in Duluth. And I realized what a marvel it was to see a sight like this. How amazed my grandmother would have been to see this many varieties of pretty flowers all in one place. The fog immediately lifted from my spirit. I strolled off to spend three hours in the provendering process. You know, being an Hunter-Gatherer. Leaving Grandma Emily in the garden section. Admiring the view.