One spring, forty years ago, a young girl toddled after her grandmother in the small yard behind her grandmother’s white-frame house. The girl was five with plain, brown hair cut into a bob, and cat’s-eye glasses perched upon her nose. She wore black, patent, Mary Jane shoes which pinched her feet and a dress sewn by her mother out of cotton, made soft by many washings. Her grandmother shortened her long strides for the girl to follow. She grabbed a hoe and made a short furrow in the dark earth. The girl bent over and dropped gray and white, striped seeds into the valley made by the hoe.
The earth was damp with dew and black from all of the compost and manure lavished upon it. It hummed with life.
Of course, the little girl didn’t know all these things then. She just knew she wanted to be near her grandmother. Smelling of soap and starch and home, her grandmother knelt next to her and showed her how to cover the seeds, pat the soil, and put them “to bed.”
The girl laughed and said she didn’t think the seeds were sleeping. Her grandmother professed the seeds were just like Sleeping Beauty. They needed water just like Beauty needed her prince, to wake them when it was time. So, she handed a blue, plastic watering can to the girl who sprinkled the earth where the seeds lay.
The little girl’s parents came to pick her up, and, because they lived far away, it was summer before the girl returned. Still, she remembered the seeds, and she wondered if they had woken from their slumber. She tugged on her grandmother’s hand. As her grandmother bent her dark head for a hug and kiss, the little girl whispered in her ear, “Are they still sleeping?”
Her grandmother smiled and gave her a squeeze, “We’ll go look in a bit,” she said.
Lunch was on the table, and with the taste of fresh, sliced tomatoes, green beans and cornbread, the little girl forgot the seeds. Plus, she was soon sleepy. Her mother lifted and carried her back to the bedroom which was always hers when they came to visit. Her grandmother covered her with a quilt, and soon, she was fast asleep.
When she woke, she rubbed her eyes and remembered. She ran into the kitchen, and although the adults were now on their second piece of pie, drinking coffee and catching up, her grandmother pulled her into her lap.
“Do you still want to see the seeds?” Before the girl scarcely had time to nod, they were out back. The screen door slapped behind them with a squeak and slam of its rusty springs.
The girl threw out her hands and stood bewildered before the garden plot where vegetables now vied for space with flowers, and chickens clucked from their covered yard nearby. For, in front of her were sunflowers so tall, she had to shade her eyes and throw back her head to see them. Their nodding flowers nearly blotted out the blue of the sky, and their stems were almost as thick as the little girl’s wrists.
“Where did the seeds go, Grandma?”
“That’s them,” said her grandmother with a smile, “When they woke up, they grew and grew until they were taller than me and you.”
Many years later, the little girl, now grown and a mother herself, rushed to her grandmother’s bedside when her father called and said, “Come soon.”
She held her grandmother’s hand on one of the darkest days of winter just shy of the Solstice. Now old and tired, her first and truest friend, who had taught her so much about gardening and life, lay dying, but she opened her eyes when she heard her granddaughter’s voice.
As her granddaughter leaned in close, she heard her say in a voice as thin as crepe paper, “I hate this time of year. It’s all looks so brown and gray. Everything is old and sad. The trees, the plants . . . even me.”
For the grandmother knew her heart wouldn’t hold out much longer, and fall and winter always made her sad.
A tear traced down her wrinkled cheek, and her granddaughter’s eyes leaked in sympathy and sadness. She searched for the right words to comfort this woman she loved so much.
“Grandmama,” she said, “They’re only sleeping. They just need a bit of rest like you. You are Sleeping Beauty. When the time is right, your Prince will come, and you will wake from your sleep.”
A sad smile tugged at the edge of her grandmother’s mouth, and her granddaughter knew she remembered the day they planted seeds together. She closed her eyes and spoke no more while her granddaughter kept vigil by her bedside the rest of that long, cold, lonely night.
Now, when the granddaughter sees the dark, gray and brown of an Oklahoma winter, she always thinks of her grandmother, and she whispers to the wind, “He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”