“Here,” she said, thrusting a lumpy envelope into my hands. “Take your seeds.”
I glanced down at her offering. It was standard letter-sized, with Holly Hawks scrawled across the front in her spindly handwriting, a script I’d recognize anywhere. Hollyhock seeds — the gift made me smile. I had forgotten that I’d even asked for these starts of the tall, leafy stalks with their vibrant crepe-paper flowers, the ones that lined the back of her house like summer sentinels. They were true heirlooms, carried with her from her own mother’s garden when she married my grandpa and planted her own so many decades ago.
“I’ll collect you some seeds,” Grandma had promised. As always, she was true to her word. Even if I hadn’t remembered, I should have known she would.
I meant to plant them in the spring. I had the perfect place for them along one unadorned stretch of bare gray siding. But life got in the way, and the pebbly envelope remained stuffed in my kitchen’s junk drawer, the seeds lying dormant within their paper casing — a packet of unfulfilled potential.
In the fall, during one of our regular morning phone chats, the conversation turned to flowers. It was one of the subjects on which I trusted Grandma implicitly. When it came to growing things, sewing things, preserving things, or frying a damn good chicken, you couldn’t find a better source than my rural Arkansas-raised granny, the backwoods Martha Stewart. She had only a few years of schooling, having dropped out in the eighth grade to help care for her six younger siblings, but her vast knowledge of the age-old traditions of self-sufficient living was nothing short of amazing.
“I never did get those hollyhock seeds planted,” I admitted sheepishly. “Guess now I’ll have to wait until next spring.”
“Naw,” she said in her matter-of-fact Southern drawl. “Just plant ’em now! They’ll come right up once the weather gets warm again.”
I was skeptical as I loosened the dirt along the south side of my house later that afternoon, but figured I’d give it a shot. I opened up the “Holly Hawks” envelope and scattered its contents haphazardly throughout the cool black soil. Then I kicked some dirt back over them, thinking I’d just about guarantee the need for more seeds once these failed to detonate into real-live flowers.
The leaves fell. The snow fell. And finally, after the icy sludge of late winter had melted, the world changed from gray to green. But the expansive stretch of ground over which I’d sewn the seeds remained blank. And after every other flower in the neighborhood had burst into bloom, I still had a patch of dirt. Grandma had been mistaken (or at least overly optimistic) about planting the seeds in the fall, or I’d just done it incorrectly; either way, there were no hollyhocks to be had.
The patch was still bare the next spring when Grandma died, tragically, unexpectedly. It was sudden, and it was devastating, and it chewed up and spit out my May and my June and my sense that all was right with the world. I grieved so hard at first that there are parts of those months I don’t even remember, endless days colored gray. There would be no more of her sage advice, even though I wasn’t done asking the questions. And there would be no one to lovingly gather replacements for the seeds I’d failed to grow.
My Grandma was gone.
But early that summer, maybe a month after her passing, I noticed something: a few tenuous sprouts poking through the dirt. And soon, as if by magic, or perhaps some sort of otherworldly intervention, my hollyhocks were flourishing. Before long, I had a whole wall of slender green stalks and newly unfurled leaves. I loved to think that they’d been nudged along by my Grandma, coaxed to life by her nurturing spirit. They bore no flowers — there would be none for the rest of the summer — but I was thrilled that something had grown where I thought there was nothing.
My hollyhocks came up right on time this spring, their third year in the ground. But though they were taller and sturdier this season, with plentiful bright-green foliage, they still were just leaves and stalks.
Or so I thought.
We were coming home from the grocery store one day, and as we turned into our driveway, my eyes settled on the hollyhocks alongside the house — as they nearly always do. This time was different though; I caught sight of something pink amid the line of emerald green. I practically hurtled out of the car to inspect them more closely, and sure enough, they were blooming. All of them. Delicate blossoms of light and dark pink and vibrant ruby, as familiar as my grandmother’s face, mirroring the ever-present blooms in her garden. I was ecstatic.
I would’ve celebrated the appearance of the flowers whenever they’d arrived, but the day they chose to bloom was especially meaningful — it was Grandma’s birthday. She would have been 87.
If I ever doubted she was watching over me, and my hollyhocks, I don’t anymore.
Thanks for the help, Grandma.
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