I told Katie and Weave that they should cut the flower heads off their new hydrangea tree so that the heavy snow and ice wouldn’t overburden the young branches. Bend and break them. They followed my advice and pruned it before the first heavy snow fell. I did not. So the hydrangea tree in front of our house drooped low with the weight of ice and snow this winter. The very thing that I cautioned might happen to them. Rather, it happened to me.
When I was a kid I had the privilege of spending time with Hannah. Grandma, I called her then. She spent hours out in her yard on the Mathiasen family farm. For several years I would mow the grass for her. A summer job. Although cash was the main reward for me at the time, I now look back with gratitude for so much more. Richness that I carry with me to this day.
Grandma was in a car accident when she was pregnant with twins. Her youngest two. Her knee was forced into the dashboard of the car, and as a result of that, became stiff and mostly immovable. She always walked with a cane. Yet she continued to raise her seven, to live alone on the farm until she died when I was in high school. Not an outspoken woman. A sort of quiet independence about her. A calm perseverance that creatively found ways to make life work in spite of her limitations.
Since the accident that left me paralyzed almost twenty-five years ago, I have most often referred to myself as “cripple.” This, of course, invites trouble of one kind or another from some people. But, I just haven’t found another word that fits my condition. A nicer word doesn’t make for a nicer experience of paralysis. Grandma was “crippled up” as I would hear her and other people say when I was younger. But over the last twenty-five years of dealing with paralysis, I have felt indebted to her for the quiet example she lived for me. Am not sure I ever heard her complain. She went after life with determination. Perseverance. A certain grace. Before I would get to her house to mow her yard for her, she would have almost always already mowed part of it. One hand on the mower handle. One hand on the cane. She and her bright green LawnBoy.
There is a beauty in my memory of that. I can’t erase it. Don’t want to. I continue to be inspired by her. Spurred on by her. By the way she lived her life. By the way she faced death. I was a sophomore in high school when she died. At her funeral I barely squeaked a few words out as we sang “My faith looks up to Thee, O, Lamb of Calvary…” I was overwhelmed with a grief that I had not felt up to that point in my life.
This hydrangea reminds me of Hannah. Grandma. A tree that endured many winters. Gained strength through experience. Even though weighed down by the sometimes harsh realities of life, an undeniable beauty shows through.
The forecast is calling for 54 degrees today. I have the day off. It is my intention to get out there and prune this hydrangea tree in the front of our house. To ready it for the coming season. New growth. Yet another season of blooming. Of beauty. Even if the coming season may present some harsh reality, some burden, some difficulty that weighs heavily… “My faith looks up to Thee…”