My grandfather, Ramon Douglass, died tonight. My mom and her siblings were there and he was able to die relatively peacefully, I’m told, at home in Portland, Maine. He had cancer, it’s pretty clear; a mass on his lung, spots on his bones and his liver. But he was healthy and active until just a couple of months ago. And it’s only in the last several weeks that he became really ill. Enough time for everyone to prepare (as much as one can prepare for this kind of thing) but mercifully quick, for his sake.
I’ve been thinking about my grandfather over the past few weeks, as it became clear that he wasn’t going to get better. Remembering so many of the good times I’ve been lucky enough to have with him over the last 32 years. One image that’s been sticking with me for the past few days is of Grampa in his garden.
I don’t know how he came to his skills, but he must have started gardening long before I was born, because some of my earliest memories are of him tending his backyard garden. Even in the last several years, after he and my grandmother moved to a condo and didn’t really have the space for a vegetable garden, he grew tomato seedlings in their loft under a grow light, and then gave them to my aunt and uncle to plant in their gardens.
Grampa’s garden took up a whole corner of the backyard. While the blueberry bushes were always pecked at by the birds, in my memory his garden was always lush and productive. There was an apple tree right in the center of it.
When I drill down to the purest of memories it’s of Grampa cleaning off a fresh carrot so that I could eat it straight from the garden. He would let me pluck them out of the ground even when they weren’t quite ready to be picked. Some were small, barely longer than a finger. Some were double, with two roots instead of one. They came out of the soil with a gentle pull right from the base, giving up their hold on the soil reluctantly. Grampa would give the carrots a quick rinse and hand them back to me.
I’ve never tasted carrots quite like that again. They were just so good. Fresh, crisp, a little bit sweet. With so much more flavor than store-bought carrots they don’t even compare.
That’s how I’m remembering my grandfather tonight. In his garden. And generously sharing with a young granddaughter what he had worked so hard to grow.