“More Than a Garden,” Ensign, June 1982, 56–57
We needed a garden, and Arnold and Rena needed someone to work their land. So we “adopted” some grandparents one summer and embarked on a very rewarding experience.
Arnold was eighty-five and in poor health, and Rena couldn’t do the physical work required to care for their two acres. So they agreed to let us do the tilling, planting, irrigating, and weeding in return for a share of the produce. Arnold and Rena welcomed us as part of their family, and our five children loved them. It wasn’t long until Jeff, our sixteen-month-old, started calling Arnold “grandpa.”
Arnold could remember coming to Idaho from Oklahoma with his family in a covered wagon at the age of five, and we loved listening to his tales of the past. He could also tell thrilling stories of his uncle’s adventures in the Civil War. Arnold served in World War I as an aircraft mechanic, but it was later, during the depression, when Arnold and his wife had five children to rear, that his great love of gardening had developed. He not only grew all the vegetables and berries his family needed, but enough extra to sell to stores or trade to neighbors for other things his family needed. After a few years he opened a fruit and vegetable stand to sell his bountiful produce and beautiful flowers.
Arnold became a carpenter by trade, but the garden was his first love. Now, in later life, this love had made him and Rena quite self-sufficient. They owed no one, and with little more than two acres of land they were able to raise nearly all their food. Goats provided their milk, chickens their eggs. They generously shared garden produce with us and other friends and relatives. A small patch of hay was harvested and sold each year to buy the things they couldn’t raise.
Arnold didn’t have long to live, and some days we knew he was in pain, but he always came out to the garden to offer advice. Although we had raised a garden for several years, he taught us a great deal. Besides, Arnold always had to come out to say “hi” to our little Jeff, who always brightened his day with a big smile. Arnold called him “my little Smiley,” and even on days when he wasn’t feeling well and had been resting all day, he came out to see Jeff.
During other years the older children had complained about working in the garden; but this summer was different. The garden became our family “retreat”—the place we wanted to go for picnics, fresh air, exercise, or just to visit Arnold and Rena. My husband made a rope swing for the children in one of the big maple trees, and he always pushed each of them in it before we left the garden for the day. They enjoyed riding their bikes to and from the garden, even though it was a five-mile round trip. Playing ball in the pasture, floating things in the creek, building forts in the woodpile, and watching the baby goats, pups, and chickens also occupied many hours.
Arnold supervised and worked all summer long, keeping his illness at bay until he was sure his place was in order and Rena had enough produce put away for the winter. Before he died that fall, we promised him that we would look after the garden as long as Rena needed us.
There’s a special feeling of freedom and self-worth that comes from being out in the country working the soil and providing for oneself. Our pantry and freezer were well stocked that fall, and we had enjoyed fresh produce for five months. There’s a special sense, too, of peace and belonging that comes from associating with older people, and we will always cherish the memories of the time we spent with Arnold and Rena. Little wonder that we feel our gardening experience was an adventure in the “good life.”