The night before grandma passed away I had a dream. I was walking through a field of wheat. Every grain was a memory of grandma, and the field stretched back to the time I was just a sprout in the ground. In most of my earliest memories grandma is there, cultivating in me the values I hold most dear. She may have retired from being a teacher before I started school, but she never stopped teaching.
It was my great fortune to grow up on the land that my grandparents began farming in 1940. Only much later in life did I learn to appreciate the powerful influence they had on my life. In an age of individualism, few get the opportunity to learn life lessons from a generation that survived so much together. With each passing member we lose a bit of that knowledge, but the values they imparted on us help to guide us to a life enriched by the things that really matter . . . family, friendship, and the joy of a simple life lived well.
I learned to play the piano on the upright grand that grandma bought just before she married grandpa. I would get off the bus after school at grandma & grandpa's place and grandma would have a snack waiting for me. I knew that when the snack was done, the practicing would begin. As any young boy would do, I sought distraction out on the farm . . . checking on the frogs in the pool, the pigeons in the barn and the cats in the hay. Eventually, I would end up in the old sequoia. I would climb so high that I could see over the top of the barn and the branches started getting thinner than my wrist. I could see forever and I could hear grandma tracking me down. The piano would not play itself. She always had a song in her voice, so I knew exactly where she was. "Robert!" she would call between humming verses. Out around the corral she would go, back through the orchard. After teaching for 35 years and raising two farm boys, I'm sure she knew exactly where I was. She wasn't forcing me to learn the piano. She was giving me the opportunity to find the desire to learn. She taught me the lesson of a lifetime of learning.
When I was in the seventh grade I came home sick from school. The doctor thought it was the flu, but grandma knew better. She could tell that something was wrong. It was within 24 hours of visiting a specialist that a surgeon removed a cyst from my brain. When I came home from the hospital it was grandma who nursed me back to health. She was always giving of herself. I owe her my life. She taught me the lesson of compassion and nurturing.
One summer when grandma and grandpa were still in their home Shannon and I helped them with their garden. We planned out what to plant . . . tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, cucumbers, corn, peppers. Grandma & grandpa knew exactly where everything should go and what it would need to grow. We tilled the soil, planted the seeds, then watered and weeded. When it came time to harvest, the fruits of our labor were sweet. The sweetest thing we took home from that summer, however, was the memory of spending time with them. When they didn't think we were looking, we would see them walking hand in hand through the orchard, giggling like two little school children. They had a relationship that lasted nearly 70 years. The lesson from grandma I cherish the most is that she taught me how to love.