Grandad used to love being in his greenhouse. He’d spend hours in it, potting plants and growing his tomatoes. One year I persuaded him to grow sweet peppers, although he wasn’t exactly sure what they were for. If he wasn’t in that sweaty glass construction, he’d be toiling away in the huge vegetable patch at the bottom of the lawn, happily fettling to himself in the full beam of the sun without so much as a cursory nod to suntan lotion.
Sweet peas, cabbages, onions, he could grow them all, grow anything. When I was young, we came back from a family holiday to Torquay to find the garden overrun with marrows. I thought Granny was going to go into orbit. We ate those huge green missiles for almost a month. They turned up in curries, pickles, salads. Stuffed, mashed and steamed.
He wasn’t able to do so much down the garden over the past few years so it’s nice when I see him down there now. Old age, arthritis, his heart, they’ve all taken their toll on him. Over the past year, there were moments when he couldn’t even get up out of bed his feet were so swollen. Isn’t old age a terrible disease?
At his worst, Granny would do her bit to help out, but it was hard to not just be his ‘number two’. It’s not easy to double dig with a broken hip. Over the last few months we’ve really let the weeds set in and it’s looking a bit untidy, but I’m determined to sort it out for them. I often see my Granddad inspecting what I’m doing in the corner of my eye. It doesn’t upset me though. If anything, I’m just pleased to see him there. He’s looking the best I’ve seen him in a long time. Whenever I’m stuck on what’s a weed, and what isn’t, I just think about all the times I watched him working in the garden and I remember what he used to do. Sometimes, he’s right beside me giving me an approving smile but mostly he’s just there, sat on the garden bench, soaking up the sun. It’s like we’re together, but somehow not, all at the same time. He doesn’t stay there for long.
Still it’s been a tough few months and it’s good to spend some time in the sun and with nature, see life growing and feel the world turning. More than that, it’s wonderful to feel that I’m doing something with a purpose, making my Granddad proud and getting to spend some time with him.
Granny doesn’t come down to the garden much anymore but I always feel her looking her on through the kitchen window. I know she misses the times when they both used to work on the garden together, him issuing instructions and her picking up the trail of chopped up foliage behind him. She likes to see the garden still being worked on, but it’s not the same, not the same as when they were both fit and well and could enjoy it together.
Through the greenhouse windows I see her wave a mug at through the kitchen blinds. This happens at least every half an hour, making refreshments for the worker is her way of still being involved, an additional opportunity to interact, to contribute. I accept each one despite the heat. Sometimes the smallest things can give you comfort and who I am to refuse her? More often than not the tea comes in the “World’s Best Gardener” mug I bought my granddad for Christmas a few years ago. He doesn’t mind, he’s passed the mantle down to me now.
“C’mon,” I say to him, taking off my gardening gloves” Granny’s got another brew on.” I place them neatly on the thin wooden shelf which sits alongside one side of the greenhouse. It is adorned with small tools, acquired over decades and hung on brass hooks which originally held tea cups under an old kitchen unit. Bundles of old twine and half empty seed packets sit haphazardly on the plinth and it make me smile.
The sun on my back feels like a warm embrace as I leave the oven like conditions of the greenhouse and make my way back up to the house. Soon I’m in the shade of the shed and the trees and I realise that the sun has released me from its hold and that I’m alone. I don’t need to turn around to realise that my Granddad isn’t following me.
The water bubbles to a halt in the kettle before my grandmother pours it into the two mugs she’s set aside on the counter. I watch her through the kitchen window as she solemnly removes two tea bags and drops them into the bin, picks up the sugar shaker and then pauses. There’s no need to sugar the gardener’s tea anymore.
Before I sit on the step to pull of my boots, I steal a second look at the garden and there’s my Granddad. He’s there’s soaking up the summer sun, inspecting the work I’ve done. His well worked hands are stuffed into his trouser pockets, his shirt sleeves are rolled up and his fine, blonde hair looks bleached from the bright sunlight.
I do miss you, I think as I blink away the tears. I don’t want to upset my grandmother, there’s nothing to be upset about, he’s happy now. The sun shines off the glass of the greenhouse and blinds me for a moment. Once I can see clearly again he has disappeared and I am once again alone.
I perch myself on the low wall running up to the house and kick off one of my big rubber boots. It lands on the ground with a thud and I remove the other more gently but with my leg cocked at an awkward angle. I chuckle at my awkwardness and feel somewhat better. Granddad would have laughed at me but instead the only other laugh I hear is that of my grandmother as she looks on through the window, the first time I’ve seen her smile in three months, the first time she’s laughed since my grandfather died. Somewhere I know he’s smiling too.