Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


April 5, 2012

GARY'S WORLD: Human senses trigger warm memories

CROSSVILLE — I almost had a tomato sandwich the other night. The recent warm weather has made me think about tomato sandwiches. I always do in the summer.

My wife bought some tomatoes and sliced them and we had them with our dinner. Usually, in the summer, I will have a tomato sandwich on toast and every time I do I think about my Grandpa Nelson and how much I miss him and his simple, common sense approach to life. He enjoyed everything and lived to be 94 years old. He passed away in 1988. He and grandma were married for 62 years.

Back in the 1970s my dad, uncle, cousin and I would take a vacation in the summer and go to Mountain Home, AR. Just the men. I went there every year at least twice a year until grandma passed away in 1983. It was always the big trip of the summer and among other things I learned how to fish, swim and work in the garden with my dad and grandpa by my side.

The heat in Arkansas in the summer is dreadful. Back then, grandma and grandpa were in their 80s and weren't able to do so much work around their home. So, every year we would go there and spend at least half of the vacation doing chores at grandma and grandpa's home. Being the two obnoxious boys we were, my cousin and I would immediately ask to go swimming at the hotel no sooner than dad's car pulled away from the ferry at Lake Norfork.

Grandma didn't have the nerves to withstand a week of two pre-teen boys in the house, so we would always stay at a hotel with the luxury of a swimming pool. The Town and Country Motel — complete with a diving board! It was only about a half-mile from grandma and grandpa's house.

Upon our arrival into town, we would check in at the motel and plead to go for a quick swim before going to grandma and grandpa's house. Most the time we could get about a five-minute swim in before having to head to the house.

Many days we would spend working at grandma and grandpa's. Grandpa had a vegetable garden and grandma had rose bushes and a small flower garden in front of the porch. Our dads would make my cousin and I do all kinds of yard work, pulling weeds, raking, mowing the lawn, sweeping — and anything else you could imagine that would keep us from going to the swimming pool. It was pure agony in the hot, July Arkansas summer. Usually we would work in teams on one project or another.

As soon as I started to complain about the heat, or having to do some yard work, my dad would give me the "you better shut your mouth or I'm going to give you something to complain about" look. He'd then follow that up with a lecture about how I should enjoy the time I get to spend at grandma and grandpa's because they wouldn't be around forever because they were getting so old and had health issues. Dad was right.

It's the same lecture I now hear myself giving to my children on occasion.

Grandma had rose bushes that were no less than seven-feet tall and three to four-feet wide on each side of the driveway near the curb. They were a deep red and when the roses bloomed they were a glorious spectacle to behold. There was a trellis on the side of grandma's house near the carport where a rose bush grew and was intertwined with the trellis all the way to the roof of the house. Sometimes when I see a rose in bloom I think of grandma and how happy she would be when the roses were in full bloom. I think of climbing the ladder to prune the rose bushes and getting the weeds out that were growing in and around the rose bush.

Grandpa would always try to give us money, but our dads wouldn't let us take it. Later in the evening grandpa would come over and slip my cousin and I each a five dollar bill, or sometimes more, when our dads weren't looking.

"Now you take this and I don't want to hear anything more about it," grandpa would say.

Grandpa had a garden that usually contained peppers and tomato plants, sometimes squash, too. The garden was about 40 feet in length in the backyard. Many days we'd spend the day working in the garden pulling weeds or picking vegetables and washing them and then taking them into the house to grandma. Grandpa loved his garden and his tomato plants.

After working all day long in the yard, we'd go inside where the house was cooled by the window-unit air conditioner, wash up and have tomato sandwiches on toast, squash and peppers and ice-cold lemonade.

It's funny how your senses can trigger memories.

I can't see a tomato without thinking of my grandpa, or smell a rose and think of grandma and the smile she'd get on her face when her rose bushes were in bloom.

With the miracle of Google street view I recently looked at grandma and grandpa's house. Long gone are the huge rose bushes. A bare driveway sits as well as the flowered garden spot in front of the porch. The house next door is converted into a business and the street is very busy with traffic.

I think back and remember how grandma and grandpa would sit in their aluminum, folding rocking chairs on their porch in the evening after heat subsided, but lingered just enough that the breeze carried the scent of grandma's flowers and roses.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to those simpler times when all I had to worry about was jumping into the swimming pool, pruning grandma's rose bush and weeding grandpa's garden. I sure would love to go back to grandma and grandpa's and have another one of those tomato sandwiches and talk about the rose bushes.

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