I grew up in a row home in Philadelphia with my grandparents. But even with the lack of a backyard, I remember how my grandfather used a small plot of land in the back to teach me how to garden. In our back was concrete to park the car and a narrow 4' x 20' bit of dirt. It may not have been a lot, but that's where my grandfather taught me how to grow tomatoes, peppers and basil.
When I was about 7 years old, I remember him teaching me how to dig into the dirt, plant and then water the vegetables. And then each day throughout the summer, we would water. I learned when I was watering too much (leaves turned yellow) and not enough, but what I really learned was patience. I didn't just plant and then we picked the tomatoes the next day. No, the tomatoes took all summer to grow and they came in waves.
The funny thing is that I did all that work but I didn't like tomatoes or peppers. I was a carrots and corn kind of kid. I would try different foods and not like them. It only took me until my 20s until I started liking vegetables, so I laugh when I see how hard my daughter works with me to water our own garden and she won't even try a tomato.
Nearly 40 years have passed since my grandfather taught me how to garden and now my daughter is 10 and she's been helping me for years.
I'm passing on what I learned to my daughter and hope that she'll do the same with (hopefully) her children. When I think back at my grandfather and the time he took to spend with me, I realize how lucky I was. My mother divorced my father when I was about 5 years old and then we moved into my mom's parent's house. My brother and I were raised by my grandmother and grandfather with my Uncle coming over every day for dinner after work. When our mom was working, my grandparents took the lead. It was a unique family upbringing and I often talk about the women who raised me, but not my grandfather so much.
I look back and think about him and miss him. He passed away nearly 15 years ago and the memory is still sad for me as he died 7 months before the birth of my son. I had wanted him to meet my son, but that was not to be. Two months after my grandfather died, my grandmother passed away and then two months after that my father-in-law passed away as well. There's a lot of sadness when I think back to that time, but with my grandfather I like to remember him for what he taught me.
He was a generous man who grew up during the great depression. When I started working after college, time and time again he would tell me to pay off all my college debt and save money "for a rainy day." He knew what it was like to have to get by on just a little bit of money and he worked his whole life to save and pay off the small home we had in Philadelphia. I would listen to his stories for hours on how he could take a nickle and go on the train from one part of the city to the other to go visit my grandmother. His stories were of a world that had long since passed on.
What amazed me the most about him were the skills he had. His older brother was a tailor so he knew how to sew and could take all my pants inseams up but also knew how to fix things up around the house. I learned how to change the oil in my car from him, how to drive and he would even play catch with me.
While other kids had younger fathers to play baseball with, my grandfather did the best he could to play games with me and make me feel loved in his home. When I think back at my Italian upbringing, I definitely don't think of silence. In our household, everyone yelled and screamed at each other one minute and then be back to being normal the next. Big arguments would flare up between my grandparents and they would be over the stupidest of things.
And through the maelstrom of my upbringing, I did my best to get by. There were many things that I was not proud of in my family, but it was what I grew up with. The memories that I cherish the most are the times that were the smallest of moments. Getting up in the morning and watching my grandfather eat his breakfast of taking stale bread and dipping it into his coffee. How he had false teeth and he'd put them in a container each night to clean them. Or seeing him working with my grandmother by cranking the handle to flatten the dough to make homemade pasta.
The little intimate moments of family life that aren't on TV, in books or in movies because they're small, private blips marking the passing of time are the ones most precious to me. I wonder what my children will cherish when they get older and think back of their childhood. We will see. I expect they'll have their own stories and see things from their own perspective. The beginning of fall reminds me of the past because it's a change in time. A change of the weather, of circumstance and of people coming together to harvest what we have sown.
I treasure my upbringing. They are precious memories of beach glass that I can hold up and see the sun shine through. People wonder why I write and spend all the time I do in working so hard on my books. The answer has always been simple. I write to express the world and people I see around me. I like to show the hope of what good came come out of life.
Since I do not have a pensieve like in the Harry Potter books where I can extract a memory and show it to you, words are the best I can do. Maybe one day we'll have that magic-like technology. But today I need to write the words down to share them with you.
But now it's your turn. I shared some of my precious memories of my grandfather. What about you? What's your most treasured memory?
Ron Vitale is a fantasy, science fiction and nonfiction author. He's written the Cinderella's Secret Witch Diaries series, the Witch's Coven series, book one in the Jovian Gate Chronicles, and now the first book, Ahab's Daughter, in the Werewhale Saga.