Monday, December 15, 2014

"Grandma's Christmas Cactus"

Howdy Friends,
I spent my youth, which seems so long ago, but sometimes not so long ago, on a dairy farm in PA. When I was about 10 I was, "Farmed Out" that is to say placed on a farm to work for my room and board. There I learned much. It was there that, although I did not realize it at the time, I was first touched by the spirit of the horse. While the farm always had an old tractor much of the work was done with the heavy horses, Dan and Bill. It was huddled in their stall on one of my first nights on the farm that I felt that spirit. I can still remember that feeling of comfort, safety that came over me. The first time in my short life that I felt that way.
Grandma's Christmas Cactus -
Life was suddenly so different. I had spent the previous 3 years locked in a room, with the sole window painted black. Here on the farm there was a vast openness that took some getting used to. Here on the farm there was suddenly no more ugliness, no harsh words and worse. But there was no love there either. I was there to work. I found my work fun though, mostly. I never really enjoyed shoveling out the privy. If you're too young to know what that is, try the google thing. It was here on the farm that I first discovered birds, too. My first was a Killdeer in the cornfield as I hoed thistles from between the stalks.

The farm had no modern conveniences, well we did have electric in the milk house, I suppose the dairy insisted on that. But the house and the rest of the farm had no running water or electric. One of my chores had been to carry and heat water for wash day Monday. Another to keep the wood box full.

One day, a few months after I'd arrived at the farm, a car pulled into the driveway between the house and barn and I watched from the barnyard as a woman walked up to the house. Soon she came out to me. It was my Grandma. I didn't know then, but she was forbidden to come see me. But she did. 

She told me later that she'd parked way off on other days and walked to safe vantage points to watch me work ... Until the day came that she would watch from afar no more. Years later she told me she would sit outside the house where I'd been in that room and stare at the black window for hours.  From that first meeting on the farm Grandma became my only regular visitor. The folks didn't really like it, because when she visited it took me away from my work. But Grandma was very determined.

Robbie and I still have Grandma's Christmas Cactus. It blooms some years at Christmas, other years I guess it doesn't feel like it. Over the years it has sometimes struggled to stay with us, but like Grandma that little cactus is very determined. Grandma loved violets too, it was for her they had such a big role in my novel. 

By my guess Grandma's cactus is well over thirty years old, and this year it's sporting a fine display of red blooms. I paused this morning on my way out for coffee with Kessy and said howdy to Grandma.

That raggedy little plant still brings Grandma's happy visits to me.

Gitty Up, Dutch Henry

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