If you plant an idea, nurture and care for it, you will be amazed by how big it grows and the influence it has. My adult son was so proud of the tomato plants he had started from seed. I listened as he described how big the plants had gotten. How beautiful and delicious the big ripe tomatoes were. His infectious description reminded me of my Grandfather. It was not how my son sounded that reminded me of Grandpa. Our sons sound like their father. So much so, that I cannot discern which of them is talking on the phone. Thank heavens for caller ID! No, this was something different. It was the words spoken by my son that transported me back to my Grandparent’s farm. It was a specific phrase, spoken years ago by a man my son had never met, that sent me back to the corn fields on my Grandfather’s farm.
Corn fields can be very scary places. From a distance the green corn fields, blanketing the Iowa farmland, may look peaceful and majestic. But standing in the middle of a corn field surrounded by tall corn plants, in long rows like soldiers for as far as you can see, is scary. Especially for a child. I always worried that I might get lost. Grandpa, however, knew every inch of his corn fields and never worried about getting lost. For as long as I had known him, for as long as my Mother had known him, and for as far back as forever, Grandpa had been farming this land. Grandpa was the tallest man I knew and he seemed as old as the ground he walked on. When he held my hand, I felt safe in the scary corn fields.
Every summer Grandpa would take my hand and we would walk together between the tall rows of corn. And every summer Grandpa would kneel-down, pick-up a corn kernel, hold it in his rough, weathered hand for me to see and say, “Do you see this little kernel of corn, Jean?”
“Yes,” would come my response.
“These big plants grew from a tiny little seed and are producing food for us to eat. All I had to do was put the seed in the ground and care for it. Isn’t that amazing?”
My Grandfather was the last farmer in our family. Both of my parents were raised on the farm, but the tradition stopped with them. I had been raised a “townie”, a term used in small farming communities for the people who lived in town. Farming had never been an occupation pursued by my Husband’s side of our family. Our children rarely even visited a farm. By the time our children were born, we did not know anyone who lived on a farm. They may have heard stories from my parents about growing up on the farm, but our sons had never experienced living on a farm. Not the way I did.
Grandpa and Grandma had a huge garden. A garden that was their grocery store. Grandma and I would go to the garden and pick peas, green beans or carrots for dinner. I remember helping to freeze corn, can green beans, and store the potatoes in the root cellar.
Our children, on the other hand, were raised in the city. The lot on which our house stood was as big as my Grandparents garden. I enjoyed planting flowers and calling it my garden. Our sons would begrudgingly help me weed the flowerbeds and mow the grass. The closest our children ever got to raising their own food was when their Grandmother planted a couple tomato plants in a corner of my “garden”.
Yet, here was my youngest son standing beside a large tomato plant, loaded with numerous ripening tomatoes declaring, “It’s amazing! This plant grew from a tiny seed and it’s making tomatoes for us to eat! Isn’t that amazing?”
I didn’t respond to my son right away. I was a child, standing in a cornfield, wondering what my Grandfather found so amazing. After all it happened every year, didn’t it? It happened every year he had been alive, and he was as old as dirt. Not wanting to disappoint my Grandfather I would smile into his warm eyes and say, “It sure is amazing Grandpa.”
My son brought me back to the now. “Earth to Mom!”
“I’m sorry. I was just thinking how much you remind me of my Grandfather. In fact, you look a little like him. He was six foot tall, like you. He wore his hair combed back over his head, like you. But what you said, about growing a plant from a seed and it is producing food…your Great Grandfather used to say the exact same thing to me when I was a girl.”
“But Mom, I learned that from you. Don’t you remember? There was that big walnut tree behind our house. You found a walnut buried in one of your flower beds. A squirrel must have buried that walnut there. I was four or five. The walnut had split in half so we could see the root growing out of one end and a small tree was growing out of the top. Don’t you remember?”
I did remember. How could I forget? It had been the perfect opportunity for a little science lesson. The walnut, split down the middle, reveled the root growing out of the bottom and the tree growing up. My son did not want anything to happen to the tender new tree, so he planted it in a small pot. No one, except our son thought the tree would survive. He brought it inside during the winter. It outgrew the pot it was in. Our son carefully transplanted the little tree. In fact, that tree outgrew several pots and was now ready to be planted in the ground.
We were building a new house and had put the “walnut tree” house on the market. The house sold in a day and we had to move to a rental house until the new house was complete. What to do with the little walnut tree became a big issue. My son would not even discuss leaving that tree behind. My Husband’s brother came to the rescue and allowed our son to plant the little tree in his yard.
The little tree spent a fall and winter in my brother-in-law’s yard. Our son regularly visited his tree, making sure it was watered and fertilized. A deer ate part of the little tree. With his father’s help, our son cut off the injured branch of the tree and staked it up, so the little sapling would grow straight. We all wondered if the little walnut tree would survive the winter. It did and it was transplanted one last time.
Our children are now grown. My husband and I have moved from the house where the walnut tree found a permanent home. It still stands, tall and straight. Its roots growing deep beneath the ground. A symbol for my children of who they are and where they came from. It is a story I share with my grandchildren.
“It’s cool to think that tree is still there,” my son said. “It’s like we left a little of ourselves in that house.”
“That is a nice thought,” I said. “You left a legacy and it is testament to your persistence. You took good care of that tree and it still stands.”
I now understand why my Grandfather found a small kernel of corn so amazing. There is comfort in the knowledge that each seed holds within itself the information needed to grow and succeed. All that seed requires of us is the time and effort to care for and nurture the seed. Whether intentionally or by accident, my Grandfather nurtured and cared for me in a way that showed me what he believed. He lived a legacy that taught me to look for the potential in small things and an appreciation for nature. I think Grandpa would be pleased to know that his legacy lives on in his great grandson and is being shared with his great, great grandchildren. What a gift!