Author Archives: Janet Grace Riehl

Daddy Care: He labors in the grove of service

 

Janet and Pop

 

Pop leans back in his green lazy boy, a spoon of oatmeal balanced on the blue
Wedgwood bowl. His eyes drift to the cardinals flitting around the feeder slung from the Magnolia tree. The world is covered with ice.

“What the weather like today?” he asks.

“We didn’t get the deluge of snow they predicted but no one will be able to get up our hill. I’ve cancelled Hospice and your caregivers for the next two days. We should get a good melt by Wednesday.”

His face softens, and his head drops. Air puffs from his lips, and the oxygen hums.

“Don’t go to sleep on me, now.” I lean forward to place my hand on his knee.

He starts awake, and looks down at his oatmeal.

“What are thinking about?”

“A time I tried to help someone and it all went wrong.”

“Ah. Yes, I can think of a few of those times, too. You’ve dedicated your life to service anyway you cut it. The army is called the service. You served your family. You kept expanding the definition of your extended family. Anything we do a lot is bound to have some real humdingers.”

I go to the front room to fetch my book “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary”  from the shelves filled with family books. Grandma Annie’s “On the Heights.” Great Uncle Frank’s “Runes of the Red Race” and “Poems of the Piasa.” Bunches of books Pop wrote.

I go back to the table and I open the book to the poem “Treasure Chest” in the section about my father. 

 He labors in the grove of service.

Remembers flat tires, repaired.

Loans proffered for crises.

Then his somber face glows

with the light of a thousand-watt angel.

I look up at him to say, “That’s my father.”

 Memories of good turns returned

is a treasure he counts with care.

His treasure chest

of good deed stories is a full one.

 Bureaucratic stupidity

circumvented to better humanity.

If there is a fetching young woman

in the story charmed

with his wit, courtesy, and good sense,

why then, all the better.

“That’s my father,” I tell him.

 War stories as WWII platoon sergeant

overflow a section of his treasure chest.

Sure, my father earned a Silver Star for heroism in battle.

A Purple Heart commemorates his war wounds.

But memories of gratitude

from men he trained mean most to him.

 His eyes, slightly filmy from cataracts, mist over

as he tells battlefield stories not shown in movies.

Lying in a base hospital bed,

recuperating from shrapnel wounds and gangrene,

Pop met a man he trained.

“Sergeant Thompson,

I’m alive today

because of the things you made me learn.”

A buddy shivered next to my Dad in a foxhole.

“Tiger,

when I’m in a foxhole with you,

I feel safe.”

“You’re crazy!”

But, Christ! That’s really saying something.

Shells whizzing over-head and grenades exploding.

How could anyone possibly feel safe?

 Men in the barracks

brought in a local French girl to have some fun.

She needed money and food for her family.

These GIs could provide both.

They passed her from bunk to bunk

until morning came.

Then these men were stricken

with amnesia and sudden blindness.

She needed to get off the post fast.

My father, not part of the evening’s fun,

escorted her to safety

as if ushering his dance partner

to the edge of the floor

when the music stops.

Quiet sits between us when I finish reading.

“That’s from your poetry book?”

“Yes.”

“It’s a good one.”

“And that’s you, Pop, as close as I can get it.”

“Yup.”

He raises his spoon, and eats his oatmeal.

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Janet Grace Riehl is the author of “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary,” and the audiobook “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music.”  You can read more stories by and about her family Erwin A. Thompson at her blog Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century. Just use the search box and an amazing archive will pop up to keep you entertained all Sunday afternoon.

Hyacinth Hope

Hyacinth HopeImages and essay by Janet Grace Riehl 

Hope sits quietly.

So pregnant with potential.

Clearly ready to open fully at any second. 

 –Said a friend who would cringe to be thought a poet

 

Pop (over the phone): “What are you doing?”

Janet: “Watching my hyacinths grow.”

My mother raised flowers galore. If she was going to grow a day lily, why not 500 varieties? While she’s at it, why not map out each color and kind on graph paper and then plant the beds like a Monet painting? Why not stake them as if in an arboretum and then move them around to improve the real life painting? Her only problem was that being equipped with only three children and one husband she was short-staffed

I knew firsthand the price of those glorious garden paintings, and never grew flowers—inside or out. Then, by chance I found that if I kept my garden on a tiny scale I could be an avid gardener too.

I wheeled my cart past hyacinths in the store—blooming and pricey. The wafting scent stayed with me even when I unloaded the groceries in my father’s kitchen.  A field trip was in order to White’s Greenhouse on the other hill. I went to school with Jim. He started his business in 1976, and now its annual revenue exceeds $5 million. Yet, it’s still an unassuming family business. I stepped inside the greenhouse late in the day.

“Do you have hyacinths yet?”

“None blooming.”

“That’s okay. I’d rather grow them from the bulbs.”

She took me over to a cluster of pots with green spears just poking up through the dirt.

“We have pink and blue. What would you like?”

I chose blue and left with three pots—each filled with three plants—all for less than $25. Back at my father’s I soaked them, and left them in the cardboard flat they came in. They rested on my floor of my upstairs bedroom with indirect light so they wouldn’t come on too fast.

1 Hyacinths pushing up

I went back to my place in St. Louis for a few days. When I came back, I saw humps of dirt displaced by the energetic plants bursting upwards. This time when I packed to go back to the city I took them with me in a white oval enamel wash pan I grabbed from our back porch.  Back in my apartment I placed them by my picture window where I could keep a good eye on them.

I’d only known gardening as hard work—without the joy. But in my secret garden I was surprised by joy as I watched the little plants poke through the dirt and grow all the way to blooming. Each morning they amazed me with another upward bound. I put giant paper clips in the pots to measure their progress—like marking a child’s height in pencil on a wall. Over the next weeks more plants poked up their heads. I didn’t have 9 plants. I had 15.

2 hyacynth collage growing

I carried my hyacinths back and forth from my place in the city to Pop’s place in the country and back again and again in the white enamel pan. They proved to be good companions. Amid the blizzards and unusual chill they testified to the humbleness of the life force around us and in us. They proclaimed hope for all that is green, and good, and glorious.

3 hyacinth collage little to bloom

Yesterday I decided to transplant them. I carefully trod down the icy back steps at my father’s around the corner to our potting basement down limestone steps. I ducked through the doorway and squinted in the dim light to locate a bucket of soil and clay pots. The  plastic bag of perlite fell apart in my hands and the white beads piled on the dirt floor. I scooped up what I needed and left the clean-up for a warmer day. As I got deeper into the narrow basement in search of clay pots I found that the spiders had been busy. Along with the pots and dirt I left covered with cobwebs.

I lined the sink with newspaper and set to my task—using less than a model technique. I was definitely out of practice. But, with some gravel for drainage and some dirt and potting soil mixed with perlite, I ended up with 15 plants in 10 pots. Some of the plants came from offshoots of the same bulb; I let these be.

4 hyacinth collage blooming

Then, on to the great give-away: to my niece, one of my father’s caregivers, a friend in the city. And some for me to keep in the white enamel pan on top of the walnut chest my father made so many years ago.

Pop (over the phone): “What are you doing?”

Janet: “My hyacinths bloomed, Daddy. But I’m still watching them grow.”

S-l-o-w living is so good for the soul.

P. S. Check out Chris Bradley’s January post “Surprised by Hope.”  She gave us two writing prompts:

1) What reminds you to be hopeful?

2) Have you been physically comforted by nature?

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Janet Riehl is an artist, writer, storyteller and glad when joy finds her.  You can learn more about her work at Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century. Creating connections through the arts and across cultures.