Excerpt from my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! ~ Notes from a Gloucester Garden, (David R. Godine, Publisher), Chapter 22 ~ “My Grandmother’s Garden.”
In the early 1960s my grandparents purchased (for the amazing sum of seven hundred dollars!) a picturesque half-acre lot with private beach rights on Cape Cod. Their dream was to build a cottage on the tall bluff overlooking the bay. Coincidentally, my grandmother continued to build their home in successive seven hundred dollar increments. Seven hundred dollars paid for digging the cellar, the next for pouring the cement for the foundation, and seven hundred dollars paid to frame the house. My grandfather finished the remaining work, and they were still building the cottage when we began to spend our summers there. He always had a hammer in one hand and a fistful of nails in the other, and I was thrilled to follow him about holding the nails.
My grandparents worked hard and created wonderful homes they generously shared. While still a young mother and throughout her life, my grandmother taught ceramics at the pottery studio our grandfather built for her. Working together, whatever they touched became transformed into something beautiful. Their homes had an enchanting and joyful atmosphere, or perhaps it just seems that way, recalled from a childhood of fond memories. When I was making plans to attend art school in Boston, my grandmother shared with me her portfolio from Parsons School of Design. I had come to spend the weekend to help her close down the house for the winter. There, in her garage, tucked in an old cupboard, she carefully pulled out a well-worn, though neatly arranged, portfolio filled with her watercolors and sketches. Imagine, keeping her portfolio safe all those years, possibly with the hope of communicating some part of her earlier self to one of her grandchildren.
Eventually, their gray-shingled summer dream cottage was made inviting by a screened porch, blue painted shutters, and a white picket fence. A dooryard flower garden was planted in front, and around back a vegetable and flower garden were sited atop the cliff overlooking the bay. A narrow, sandy path bordered with deliciously fragrant wild beach roses led from the garden to the steep stairs descending to the beach. A weathered picket fence and rickety salvaged gate connected to a wooden archway enclosed the flower garden. By mid-summer the entryway to the garden was embowered with a cloud of sky blue morning glories. Situated in a haphazard manner outside the gated garden were wind- and weatherworn 1920s bamboo armchairs and matching comfy chaise lounge. On some days we would play imaginary children’s games there in her garden overlooking the sea, and on other days we would draw and paint, make clay things from clay foraged from the bluff, and catch fat, helpless toads. I helped my grandmother plant hollyhocks and marguerites and marigolds. The colors, so vividly clear and fresh; flowers growing by the sea appear even more beautiful, perhaps from the ambient light reflected off the water.
Weather permitting, we usually served dinner on the porch. All the porch furniture was painted my grandmother’s signature blue. We ate at a long table with a pretty white-on-white embroidered cloth and round crystal rose bowl full of whatever flowers we had collected that day. We would have family feasts in the fading rosy light, memorable dinners of freshly boiled lobsters and mountains of steamed clams, buttery and sweet corn-on-the-cob, freshly picked vegetables and fruit, and ice cream.
Blissfully lying in bed early in the morning, I recall hearing the soft cries of the Mourning Doves and the cheery calls of the Bobwhites, mingled with the inviting sound of the surf. From my bedroom window I could look out across the garden to the bay and see the ships and sailboats coming and going in the sharply sparkling sea. The transcendent harmonies of the surrounding undulating sea-rhythms and shifting light, the blend of flower fragrances, and birdsongs created the desire to in turn provide similar experiences for our children.
Some years later and newly married, my husband and I were visiting my grandmother at her Cape house. We sat with her in the living room listening to her usual captivating tales, and told her our plans for our new life together. My husband later remarked to me how beautiful she looked. Mimi was wearing a summer shift in a lovely shade of French blue, seated in a chair slipcovered in a blue floral print, with the shimmering azure sea framed by the window behind her, her china blue eyes gazing serenely back at us.
My Garden—like the Beach—
Denotes there be—a Sea—
Such as These—the Pearls
She fetches—such as Me