Irises and Apples

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

For the first part of my life I lived with my maternal grandparents. My mother was young, just 19, and although she was married my father had enlisted in the Marines and was gone. The Vietnam War was fully engaged in 1970 and my father didn't need to be drafted ... he went willingly.

So there I was, in 1970, a newborn. My mother was in Nursing School despite being both recently married and so recently pregnant. I suspect the nuns were less than thrilled.

Irene Riester - age 13
While my mother was at class, my grandmother cared for me. I think my youngest Uncle was 10 or so and my grandmother had miscarried a pregnancy in October of the previous Year. In fact, both grandmothers, maternal and paternal, had miscarried about the same time. There had been a distinct possibility that I may have had an Aunt and/or Uncle who would have been my age peer, but I was the lone survivor.

My grandparents - With my great-grandparents,  Marie and Nelson Rickus

I loved my grandmother, Irene Ann Riester Rickus. My memories of her are of her being incredibly patient with me and my incessant exploration of  her jewelry box and closets and all the places that I had no compunction about opening and emptying.  It was her sewing machine that I fiddled with, constantly, despite being warned off - sternly- about breaking the needles (and still breaking them pretty frequently).

My Grandmother, Mother, Aunt and Uncle with her Father - And Garden

I loved my grandfather - George Baird Rickus-  too, but differently. Him of the scratchy face in the morning and the ever present smell of his aftershave. He was the jokester, my grandfather, the trickster. It was with him that I recall being in trouble with if I fooled around too much in church. Yet it was also he who would recruit me into carrying the wine down to the alter during mass, and I would feel incredibly important as I solemnly walked up the aisle beside my giant of a grandfather.
Their House  -  Purchased July 1956
They were both children of the Great Depression, of immigrants.  Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Austria, Czechoslovakia; I am the eventual progeny of the mass movement of people in the late 1800's.

My Mother, her brother and sister  (and cousins) - 1961
My grandmother was one of three sisters - the middle girl. It was her mother, Emily (Emilie) Dvorak,  who was one of the dual name sources for my Emily. My grandmother used to tell me that I looked like her mother, but I don't know.

My grandmother was the Reader and had a vast amount of knowledge from books. The rooms of her house were stacked high ( literally) with books.  More books on shelves and in the basement.

My grandfather was one of 11 ( I think) siblings. In the pictures of him as a younger man, he seems very silly and rather handsome. He was a minor league baseball player too - tall and lanky, and could play musical instruments like no one I have ever known - mostly by ear and without any kind of training.  I can see why my grandmother was smitten.

My grandmother was the gardener, and my grandfather loved his trees.

I can remember walking with my grandmother when she would do her rounds of her flowers, plucking off the dead ends, looking at the vegetables to make sure no errant animal had made it's way into the beds. Irises and Lilies always make me think of her, and bath tubs full of tomatoes or cucumbers that she was getting ready to can. There was a hedge of spearmint too, and I loved crashing through it - the smell following me as I burst through from one side to the other.

Their backyard, February 2009

There were all kinds of fruit trees; apples, pears, peaches, cherry and walnut. My requests for pies were rarely  turned down, particularly if I had helped pick the fruit. I also loved the tart and tangy taste of the green apples and got in trouble with my grandfather more than once after getting into his trees before the fruit was ready. I would often ride the pony from one grandparents house - over the ridge - to these grandparents house, and then get in doubly in trouble for letting the Pony eat the green apples. A miscreant from the beginning, was I.

In their back yard I perfected climbing trees ( if my grandfather wasn't watching me) and catching fireflies until it was darker than dark.  A backyard orchard is a divine place to catch fireflies in the summer.  I would keep the glass jar, filled with grass and leaves and sparkling with the green yellow glow of fireflies, near my bed.  It was in that back yard that I was allowed to play in the rain ( as long as there was no thunder), no matter how hard the rain came down.

My grandmother kept canaries and would let them fly around the house sometimes. Her favorite was a little yellow one she named GB, in honor of her husband.  She also loved the cardinals and other birds the gardens and orchards invariably attracted.

At my grandmother's funeral in 2009, the priest exhorted us to remember her not in death, but in life. In that moment, a memory came and kicked down my adult facade of concern and grief.

I was maybe 4 or 5, and had been outdoors, exploring on my own. When I returned indoors - most likely to find something to eat - my grandmother sensed ( or smelled) that something was awry.  Eventually I had to confess that I had decided to relieve myself in the neighbors yard. And I don't mean liquid.

The funny thing is that I can recall the internal dialogue I had with myself about that decision. It was just so Far back to the house to walk and Animals just went outside all the time. I knew I shouldn't - but.....

My grandmother got her shovel and asked me to lead her to my "deposit". She scooped it up with shovel and carried it over to the statue of Mary that overlooked the back yard.  She excavated a small hole, and tipped the contents of the shovel into the hole.

I stood and watched next to her.

"Mary won't mind.", she said. "but don't poop in the yard anymore."  And then she took me in for a bath.

This memory made me begin to giggle in church, making my uncle glance over at me quizzically. Had my grandfather, who died the following year, been able to hear me ( he was very nearly deaf by that point) , I suspect I would have gotten in trouble. 

They loved me, and I them. I wish I'd known them better when I became an adult, but that can't be helped now. These things I wish for as my origins move further away.

Instead, I honor them by creating something beautiful to distill all my memories into a lasting tribute that my (maybe) grandchildren will run across, someday.

2 Baleful Regards:

Sharlene said...

Amazing work and a beautiful story to go with it, thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous, and I love the back story. What a wonderful tribute.

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