Two weeks ago, as Romie and I were sitting inside Mom and Dad's gazebo with Dad, having a nice chat, I mentioned that I needed to buy a pitchfork. Dad asked why I needed one and I answered, "To turn my compost." He told me he had one he never used that I could have, and if he did ever need it, he knew where he could get it. Great! That's money that could be spent for something else. Like plants!
So he went to the garage and got the wooden-handled pitchfork down and handed it to me. "This belonged to your grandpa." Ohhhhhh... I can't describe the feeling I had when he told me that. You see, my grandpa has been gone for nearly 39 years. He died in a car accident on the eve of my 11th birthday in 1968, and I think about him often, even yet.
For the first three-and-a-half years of my life, I practically lived at my grandparents' house. Mom and Dad were busy working in their family businesses - Dad, as a custom butcher and owner of a small town grocery store and Mom, as owner and sole operator of a beauty shop at the back of the grocery store. We lived in an apartment above it all.
I would go to Grandma and Grandpa's early in the morning and then Mom or Dad would pick me up when they were done working for the day. I spent the night often. Grandma and Grandpa were farmers and life there was typical. I remember Grandpa in his overalls either driving the tractor or doing something in the barn (probably with that pitchfork). Grandma had her garden, and I remember her teaching me lots of things. She introduced me to poetry and at a young age, I learned to recite The Night Before Christmas (Clement Clarke Moore) and Little Boy Blue (Eugene Field) by heart. Grandma taught me how to read at age four and now at 92, she's still teaching me things.
There was the tin button box that I loved to play with. I'd take them all out and sort them by type or by color, then put them all back in. There was something about that collection of like things that at the same time were unique that fascinated me and the tin box was pretty cool, too. Sadly, I left the box out in the rain once, and the fabulous round tin had to be discarded.
Grandma saved the back pages of McCall's magazine for me, because that's where the Betsy McCall paper dolls were. Grandma would save the white cardstock that came in her packages of hosiery and we'd glue the pages to that, then I'd cut out the paper doll clothing. That way they'd last longer. This all was kept in a shoe box and I don't know what ever happened to them.
I liked to explore the out buildings on the farm and walk the cow paths out in the pasture to the south. There was a large oak tree in the farthest corner and I spent time under the sprawling branches of that tree, sometimes writing poetry. I still have one piece that I wrote and I laugh when I read it now, because I obviously was trying to emulate the Victorian style that I'd read. Even my handwriting had a flourish to it.
And then there were the cats. The wonderful, ever-changing family of barn cats. There was 'Friend,' who was the most docile, easy-going calico you'd ever want to meet. She had a couple litters of kittens and for what a sweetheart she was, she was not a good mother. Once this was known, I would imagine they had her spayed, I don't know. But there were others - Big Yella Fella, who was a long-haired yellow cat, and Blackie, a long-haired - wait for it! - black cat. There was a calico kitten that fell into a can of paint up to its neck. Grandpa saved it and cleaned it off as well as possible, but that cat never had normal fur after that.
When Grandpa and Grandma had their car accident, my life changed in a big way. It was the first time I'd ever lost anyone that I was that close to and for decades after that, I looked at things from the standpoint of "before Grandpa died and after Grandpa died." When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969, the thought went through my head in later years, "Grandpa never got to see that." When I got married and had our children, he never got to see that either. So many things that I would have wanted to share with him...
My grandpa taught me how to remember the colors of the rainbow. You know - the ROY G BIV thing. I could never remember it and always had to ask him again and again, "How does that rainbow thing go again, Grandpa?" And he patiently would tell me one more time. After he died, I never forgot it.
So as I turned the compost after I got home, I remembered all that and pictured Grandpa pitching cow manure in the barn. I'll bet when he was doing that, he didn't think about where that pitchfork would end up someday - in his granddaughter's hands, pitching a different kind of fertilizer.