"A house is built with hands, a home is built with the heart."
That old adage could have been written by my maternal grandmother nearly a century ago.
With some flower seeds, some "rootings" and some boards to make a sidewalk leading to the front door, she transformed a series of central Alabama sharecropper and mining houses into homes her seven children remembered as places surrounded by small acts of love.
Granny married Grandpa when she was not much more than a child herself, either 13 or 14. And babies started arriving the very next year.
But even during those early years when the family moved nearly every year, Granny’s FIRST DUTY when resettling her family was planting — plant flowers, bushes and sweet-smelling shrubs.
Window washing could wait.
The children learned early to swing a mop and a broom.
But to Granny a HOUSE could not be a HOME without flowers.
Granny felt the solace the flowers provided was just as important as the vitamins and other nourishment that came from the fertile vegetable garden.
The front yard was ALWAYS swept immaculately clean with a homemade brush broom.
Then the board sidewalks, lined with zinnias, marigolds, petunias, chrysanthemums and gladiolas, provided a welcome respite for the older children and Grandpa coming in from the hot dusty Alabama fields, and a welcome for the relatives and friends always welcome at the big eating table.
The frame houses were often unpainted, freezing in the winter, muggy in the summer, but hope always burst forth in the first rays of spring as the daffodils, tulips and crocuses smiled the message "better days are coming."
Grandpa had no "book" education, but he was extremely hard-working – doggedly-hard. But his one main fault was that his heart was just TOO big. He worked from job to job and would give away anything he owned if he saw someone else who needed it worse. But he hung on to Granny for more than 50 years.
Even now, nearly a century after Grandpa’s death, I still meet folks who tell me about my Grandpa’s generosity. Recently a man related how his father had died suddenly at an early age leaving a young mama and a houseful of even younger kids at home.
"We would have frozen if your Grandpa hadn’t brought us coal all that winter," the man explained.
So Granny had to also add "juggler" to her many gifts and she utilized her love of flowers as the way to make certain her family would always have a comfortable and secure home.
As Grandpa continued working hard, Grandma began making "bouquets" for sick folks, corsages for high school dances and then "sprays" when someone passed away. Her "hobby" soon grew into the first real florist in Blount County.
And she squirreled away the profits to have enough money to build AND PAY FOR a sturdy, comfortable and lovely wood framed house in Oneonta (with a small flower shop building just beside it) in the 1940s.
When I came along in the early 1950s, she was beginning to phase out the "official" florist "business," but even her home in town was surrounded by flowers and those ever-present sweet-smelling shrubs.
And I don’t mean just a few!
I mean surrounded!
You know those funny wooden cutouts of a woman bending over that were recently so popular in lots of rural front yards? We didn’t need those cutouts! We had Granny.
I remember a lot of my childhood conversations with her were while she was weeding, plucking, pulling or planting, and I’d have to nearly stand on my head to see her face-to-face!
My Mama was a great reader and collected numerous books and magazines, just as I do, with them often over-running shelves throughout our home.
My Granny once half-kiddingly made the comment that my Mama would have a lot more money for flowers if she "didn’t buy all those books!"
Years later, Grandpa had been dead several years, but Granny still lived in the little white house.
I found myself nearly 1,000 miles away, freshly-divorced with two tiny daughters, but I felt Granny still with me.
As I moved from a four-bedroom, suburban, Spanish-styled house to a leaky-roofed, tree-frog infested, frame square, I thought of Granny’s flowers.
Six weeks later when we "moved up" to a cottage bordered on one side by a rumbling Amtrak railroad track, pots of flowers, ivy, ferns and tomatoes moved with us. Together my little girls and I enjoyed their blooms as we watched them sway from the vibrations of the passing trains.
As we moved from house-to-house to mobile home, flowers always helped to make each place a little brighter.
I certainly had not inherited Granny’s green thumb, but amid the sand bed, swing set, three-wheeled vehicles and assortment of kittens, flowers (sometimes somewhat straggly!) grew and bloomed beside my Beth and Jannea as symbols of hope.
Years later, God blessed me with Roy and our son Nathan, and what was then my "dream home" on two acres of precious Alabama soil.
When that house burned one dreary, winter day, we could not help but be depressed. But as spring approached and we began rebuilding, a brave tulip here, a group of buttercups there, blue crocuses peeking through the rubble — gave us hope!
Our house had been destroyed, but not our home!
Now I sit on this slightly-bigger farm, but nothing really has changed.
There’s a rose bush by the back porch, an English Dogwood beside the back corner of the house and a snowball bush near the barn, all rooted from those grown years ago by my Granny and carefully planted here by my own Mama.
My husband continues his courageous battle with cancer. Life still seems really hard on some days.
But all I have to do is walk into my daughter-in-law Kim’s little greenhouse here on the farm or the bigger greenhouses at the Blount County Farmers Co-op and I am at peace. I feel the gravel crunch under my feet and feel the sun warm my face. The water sprinkling the tiny seedlings brings forth a fresh I-remember-Granny-smell.
And each tiny bloom is a messenger of hope!
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County who can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.