Grandpa’s favorite flowers had always been hollyhocks. I’m not sure why, but he loved them. They lined his garden and his yard, and some even grew out in the trees. We, my siblings and cousins and I, would explore the trees looking for peacock feathers from Grandma’s prized peacocks in the summer. Those birds had such an enchanting, sad, mournful call. They were beautiful, but seeing them everyday made them much more ordinary than they really were. I still to this day have some of those feathers.
I think all the grandkids loved being at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. Grandma and my aunt, who lived with them and helped them, and eventually took care of them in their old age, made homemade cookies, and sometimes Grandpa would sing and dance in the kitchen with the old cook stove sitting next to the modern electric range. The dishes were done by hand after every meal, and Grandma had certain jobs that were done on specific days of the week, probably just like her mother had done years before. Grandpa cut all the wood to heat the house, I don’t remember any other heating system, and there were lines hanging across the ceiling in the living room to hang clothes to dry in the winter. I loved helping operate the ringer washer tub, where we washed clothes just like they did in the olden days. He was a hunter, trapper, and farmer, and loved being able to help him. I felt valued by all my grandparents, but especially by my two grandfathers. My paternal grandfather died when I was only 6, and I know I was loved deeply by him, but my maternal grandfather made a very deep impression me as a child, and does still to this day. He was very devoted to God, and lived his life the best way he thought he could.
Grandpa died when I was 17. He hadn’t been “here” for a long time, and the last conversation I can remember having with him was one from when I was 14. Grandpa was my male role model, mostly because I had always felt like my dad was disappointed with me, since I was the firstborn, and I ended up being a girl. (And to make it worse, I was a tom boy, rubbing salt in the wounds.) But Grandpa loved me for who I was, and I loved playing baseball, and hearing stories about when he was a little boy. I even had an empty chew can that Grandma had put raisins in, so I could have a chew just like Grandpa did. I’ve been told I look like him, and yes, I can see the resemblance.
Fast forward twenty years or so; I’m a happily married mother of two young children. My husband and I have moved to a small town in North Dakota, and are enjoying owning our own home. The existing flower garden in the yard was very overgrown, and full of white flowers. I dug and planted and dug and planted, trying to get rid of the white and add some color. I enlisted the help of my knowledgeable elderly neighbor ladies to know which of these unfamiliar plants were weeds and which were flowers. After a few years of gardening something strange happens; my yard erupts with hollyhocks. I’m not talking one or two seeds that drifted in on the wind, or a pod dropped by a bird in a one area, but an actual eruption.
I had hollyhocks in every corner of the yard, every crack of the sidewalk, and every space of the yard that wasn’t mowed. They were every color, every shape, and every size. Giddy, I let them all grow. My yard looked like Grandpa’s. I told my mom about what happened, and she told me Grandpa must have sent them. I had never considered this, and this thought made me very happy. After a few years though, I had to start pulling them out. They seeded and reseeded and I pulled hundreds of plants. I now leave about 20 of them or so growing all around the yard in different nooks and crannies. They make me smile. And they remind me of Grandpa.