How did I end up here?
Here, being the Central Valley of California, the Fruit Basket of the Nation. This is what goes through my mind today, as I sit on the patio looking out at my garden. Interspersed with these thoughts, are others about the empty spots in my garden beds. Ignoring the fact that it is only the beginning of Summer, I truly believe my flower beds should be already be packed with swatches of bright vibrant colors. This brought me to thinking about Godetia, one of my Grandmother’s favorite plants. She liked Dianthus as well, but Dianthus doesn’t do well here during the summer. Godetia on the other hand, flourishes almost to the point of being invasive, and might nicely fill up those empty patches in the garden.
It is funny how your thoughts start at one point and meander around and if uninterrupted, your thoughts can end somewhere completely different. I find my Internet searches follow the same type of circuitous route, I can start out researching something really intellectual such as when “Art of War” was written and end up somewhere completely different about “What These Celebrities Look Like Today”.
I am thinking about my Grandmother and then Godetia, and then onto my Grandmother’s gardens which were always perfect. Her garden beds could have been in magazines, they were that beautiful. The edge of the flower beds were carved with clean, surgical edges, which then lead to dark, finely crumbled soil. Her rose beds Monet would happily have painted. She always said roses should always be in their own beds, and never planted with anything else. Pondering about the rose beds brought me to her love of fresh horse manure. She said nothing was better than horse manure for roses.
Manure and roses. I remember when we stayed with my Aunt in Melbourne. That was back in the early Seventies. Believe it or not, milk was still delivered by a horse-drawn cart. Every morning, when it was still dark, I could hear the horse come clip-clopping down the quiet street. Then the clip-clopping would stop, there was the sound of jangling chains, a sound I was never really sure from where it originated. The horse, for some reason, while stopped, loved to leave a steaming pile of manure in the middle of the cul-de sac. It was my job to go shovel it up and bring it to my Grandmother so she could lovingly disperse it around the bases of the rose bushes.
I tell that story to people I know now, and like many of the stories I tell about my Grandmother, they think I am making it up. But I am not. It is hard to believe, only forty years ago, I was standing out in a cul-de-sac, wielding a shovel, ready to fight the neighbors for the freshly dropped horse manure, left by the horse drawing the milk cart. How things have changed so dramatically.
I am still sitting on the patio, in the Central Valley of California wishing now that I too had some fresh manure for my roses. But I am also thinking what a puzzle my Grandmother was. She was very well-educated, in all kinds of things. She loved books and poetry. She wanted me to bathe, almost drown in the beauty of poetry. When I lived with my Grandparents on the Isle of Wight, prior to going to Australia, I was encouraged to spend hours transcribing poems, over and over and over again into those little blue composition books. Wordsworth, Tennyson and John Masefield – something about going down to sea again, and needing only a tall ship and the stars to steer her by.
The thing I remember most about those hours and hours of writing poems into little blue books, is that I was never allowed to sniff. My Grandmother said it coarse, crass and most unladylike. If my nose began to ran, while my head was bent over the desk, furiously writing down poems, I was instructed to covertly remove my handkerchief from whence it was hidden in my sleeve and dab my nose gently. If dabbing my nose did not help, and I thought more aggressive action needed to be taken to stem the tide, then I was instructed to excuse myself, politely, from the table and go to the lavatory, and take care of things. One time, I did not correctly predict the velocity at which my nasal mucous was moving, and a big drop splashed onto my paper, thereby making the fountain pen ink run. Oh what a hullabaloo commenced with that.
According to my family, it was actually my Great-Grandmother who was responsible for my Grandmother’s fine, upper-class education. Which brings us to an even more puzzling issue. Why would the wife of a Master Builder know how to speak French fluently, play the piano beautifully and was so very well spoken? This is the big mystery. Because no one really knows where she came from.
Finding the answers to these questions has become somewhat of a family obsession. Several years ago, my brother tried to get to the bottom of this. He hired an investigator over in England. And what was an attempt in making the issue clearer, actually resulted in more bits and pieces of information that made the waters even murkier.
I am bound and determined to find out more about my Great-Grandmother. I feel I need to do this not only for myself, but also for my Mother who has always wondered about the origins of the wonderfully sweet woman she called Grandmother, a woman who always seemed like she had been plucked from one life and put into another, and appeared a bit out of place in the life she led. It was if she was an heirloom rosebush growing in a field of Godetia. We really do not know where that side of the family comes from. There is a whole side of the family we know nothing about because the box on her birth certificate which would contain the name of her father, is empty.
I saw a show recently about three individuals who were found on doorsteps as newborns, swaddled in a blanket and tucked into a grocery bag. Through the help of a DNA genealogist they learned they were siblings and discovered their mother. It was fascinating how with the swab of the mouth, so much information could be extracted.
I think my first step will be to order a DNA test. I will keep you posted as to how this goes. As with all my little investigative journalism efforts, I suspect I will end up in a completely different place then I expected. This is the conclusion I have come to while sitting on my patio in the Central Valley of California, looking at my garden, wishing the empty patches were filled in.
Photo credit – chilternseeds.co.uk