Rhubarb and a Legacy That Lives On

rhubarb / rejoicing hillsWhen the giant rhubarb leaves began to unfurl their creases and wrinkles out by the milk house this spring, it was hard not feel a little happy-sad at the sight.  One of the plants in my flourishing patch, the best one on the end with the slenderest brightest red stems,  isn’t original to the property like the others are.  It was a gift to me the spring I was a new bride, expecting my first child and eagerly planning our very first garden at the house we had recently moved into.

I had stopped at my nearly 90-year-old grandpa’s house to pick up a few of the vegetable plants from his little homemade greenhouse, the extras from his own ambitious garden that he had always offered to family year after year.IMG_1870“Do you have any rhubarb at the new place?” Grandpa asked, as he tucked sturdy tomato plants, peppers and cabbage into a wooden flat for me.  The white Styrofoam cups squeaked against each other as he splashed them liberally with a scoop of collected rainwater.  He scrawled the variety names onto a yellow page from an old auction receipt book, garden dirt beneath his nails, fingers big and rugged around the stub of a pencil.  “Rutger is a new variety,” he noted.  “Nice and early, and great flavor.  I searched all over town to find seed after I tasted one last year; finally found it at Fleet for ninety cents a packet.  Can’t beat that price!  Oh, and you’ll want some of these Sugar Cherry, too.  Just like candy.”

I nodded in agreement, then replied, “No, there’s no rhubarb at our new place; I’ll be able to get some from Mom’s garden, though—“  But he hadn’t heard the last part of my sentence, only the word “no”.  “My rhubarb really took off this spring,” he said proudly, grabbing a shovel leaning against a nearby shed, and heading off purposefully towards the garden.  “I’ll dig you up one.”

Pleased at the unexpected offer, I followed him along the little path through the row of pines that separated the house from the garden, ducking and stepping high to miss the elaborate system of electric wires that guarded his carefully cultivated vegetables from hungry critters.  A row of butter crunch lettuce made a brilliant yellow-green ruffle against the black dirt of the freshly tilled soil; further down, I could see the shadows of more greenhouse plants like the ones he had put in a flat for me, growing sturdy beneath their hand-cobbled mini greenhouses of wire and plastic.  As usual, his garden was in weeks before anyone else’s and thriving.  He stooped to pull a couple radishes, shaking off the dirt before he handed them to me.  “You better take a couple of those, too.”

rhubarb leaf / rejoicing hillsUp by the raspberry patch, he searched among the big leaves of the rhubarb until he found an off-shoot plant, just the right size to survive a transplant well.  He lifted it out and I held a plastic shopping bag open.  He dumped it unceremoniously inside.  It always boggled my mind how he could treat tender young plants with such carelessness yet have them perform so beautifully under his care.  If only the plants under my care could grow half so well—was that careless confidence the key, I wondered to myself?

A generous splash of water back at the greenhouse was the finishing touch.  “Put some good manure around that when you plant it and you should have rhubarb to pick next year,” he declared confidently, wiping his hands off on the sides of his tan coveralls.  I tucked the bag into the back of my vehicle next to the flat of tomatoes and promised to take good care of it.IMG_4590When we moved again the following spring, that rhubarb plant came with me even though I was aware that there was already a well-established patch at our new place.  Being transplanted twice like that set it back for a while, but by the next spring, thanks to several of those recommended scoops of “good manure”, I pulled my first stems of Grandpa’s rhubarb.

I mixed up a batch of old-fashioned rhubarb custard bars first, the kind I have fond memories of my mom making for us when I was a child.  The small red squares of stem glimmered like tart pink jewels encrusted in the creamy yellow custard, and I thought smilingly of Grandpa as I sampled a sweet slender square still warm from the oven.  I told him of my success the next time I saw him.

He was pleased.rhubarb custard bars / rejoicing hillsLast fall, Grandpa went home to be with the Lord, and so this spring, the little tractor and plow that he used to turn the soil to velvet sat silent in the shed.  His rhubarb plants unfurled and went to seed because no one was there in the little white house beyond the pines to pluck off the seed pods.  The greenhouse was sold at the estate auction to a neighbor and the little bent wire plant cages covered clumsily in plastic and held together with twine went into a dumpster.

But out by my milk house, a little piece of Grandpa’s love for the soil grew on.

I thought of him as I walked out one dewy morning with my little girls, his first great-grandchildren, to pick the first stems of the year.  I showed them how to reach down low to pull the stems so that they didn’t break and nothing was wasted, remembering his very last words to me as he grasped my hand from where he lay on the hospital bed.  “You take good care of those little girls now.”  The admonition echoed in my mind as they pretended that the big leaves were umbrellas and used butter knives to “help” me cut the red stems into small squares when we got back to the house.  IMG_4480I beat together sugar and golden-yolked farm eggs, and folded the tart chunks into the yellow custard while they stood on chairs and watched.  The legacy of love for things that grow had begun for yet another generation and I knew Grandpa would be pleased.  Later, I thought of this Scripture passage as I pulled the pan of bars out of the oven and set them on a rack to cool:

“How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, Who walks in His ways.  When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, You will be happy and it will be well with you.” (Psalm 128:1-2)

That was Grandpa, literally and figuratively.  Because he also left behind a legacy that was much greater than a love for things that grow from the earth.  The greatest legacy he left behind was a deep love for the Creator of the earth.

There’s a well-used Bible, liberally highlighted and underlined, stored safely at a family member’s house now, with a long list of dates in the back recording each time he had read the beloved Book from cover to cover.

Many, many times.IMG_7242 (683x1024)It’s the one physical thing we have left as a testimony to his decades of walking with the Lord and we treasure it.  It is my greatest hope and prayer, however, that this legacy won’t remain locked up tidily in a safe to crumble away and die there like my rhubarb plant would have without sunlight and soil.  I hope it, too, will send out little shoots, and grow and flourish for generations to come, not in the fertile black soil of a garden, but in the soil of my heart, and the hearts of all his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and beyond.  It was his greatest desire as he died, and will, in eternity, be his greatest joy.

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4)IMG_9627And best of all, even when all the things of this earth pass away, including all rhubarb plants of sentimental value—that is a legacy that can never perish or be taken away.

For more happy memories of my grandpa, see here.




IMG_2109 editI’m sitting here, gazing out the window, watching lazy flakes drift to the ground, gently highlighting the forms of dark spruce across the field.  It seems strange that they’re forecasting temperatures above freezing for the next couple weeks, which means our world of white may soon be turning to soggy brown.  But it’s March, after all, that indecisive in-between month that (where I live) is never quite winter, never quite spring.

With all this uncertainty, then, it seems like I’d better slip in this last ode to the beauty of winter before it’s too late—and with it, excerpts from a most appropriate psalm.  IMG_1579 edit“Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting…winter shed…He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly…IMG_2049 editIMG_1573 edit
He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes…IMG_2120 edit…He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold?…Praise the LORD!”  (Psalm 147:1, 15-17, 20)

If you get a chance and need something guaranteed to lift your spirits (who doesn’t?), slip out your Bible and take a moment to read through this psalm in it’s entirety—I’ll just say that it’s not only about snow and ice, and it’s pretty magnificent!

Lessons from Grandpa

flaming maple / rejoicing hillsHe taught me that getting old didn’t mean you quit living—and that you could still go swimming every day and play volleyball and travel the world when you were going-on-90.red maple leaf / rejoicing hillsHe taught me not to be afraid to dream and to try new and crazy things.  Start a restaurant!  Convert a roller skating rink into a church building!  Plant potatoes a month earlier than anyone else in the county!  Invent an automatic bed-making machine!

turning leaves / rejoicing hillsmaple leaves / rejoicing hillsHe  taught how to put my own worms on my own hook and know how to tie proper knots so I could change my own lures. It was from him that I learned that lunch in a fishing boat could legitimately consist of a can of pop and a candy bar.  He also taught me the art of telling people how many fish we caught without revealing where we caught them, and how to sweet talk ’em when they weren’t biting.

maple tree / rejoicing hillsHe taught me that ice cream was a vegetable—and should, accordingly, be eaten as often possible, preferably topped with homegrown raspberries.  And chocolate and caramel and nuts and hard cookies.  But he also taught me that vegetables (the real ones) were pretty amazing, too.

fallen leaves / rejoicing hillsHe taught me that one didn’t need an advanced education to write witty and thoughtful letters in your grandchildren’s birthday cards.

He taught me how to judge a good dairy cow, and then how to care for her after I took his advice and bought her.

He taught me that it’s possible for a lame pun to be hilarious, when said with that much mischief twinkling in one’s eyes.

He taught me how to make Spanish omelettes.

He taught me that fashion statements can be made with coveralls just as well as bolo ties, matching belt buckles and fancy cowboy boots.  That having hard candy in your pocket is a great way to win friends and influence people.  And that a hearty splash of gasoline will cure a bad case of poison ivy (much to my mother’s dismay…).

You were only ninety-one young, Grandpa—not old enough to die.  I’m going to miss you!

“For You…O God… have given me the inheritance of those who fear Your name.” (Psalm 61:5)


For more memories of my grandfather, see here and here.




In Search of: Wild Raspberries

wild raspberry / rejoicing hillscountry lane / rejoicing hillswild raspberries / rejoicing hillsThe golden rays of the sinking sun slanted down through the treetops as we worked our way carefully along the brushy edges of the narrow lane, searching.  There were no buckets present; this excursion was not for duty or mass accumulation, but sheer enjoyment.  We ate them as fast as we found them, fingers soon stained with streaks of red.  It was an evening for one of summer’s best simple joys: picking wild raspberries.wild raspberry / rejoicing hillsExcursions to the local u-pick berry patches with their neatly mulched rows and abundant berries are a yearly tradition that I love and look forward to.   Earlier this week, I brought home buckets full of blueberries; a couple weeks ago, it was buckets full of strawberries.  But there’s nothing quite like venturing out into the woods to find them growing wild.  You know—where the value of the berries acquired is in direct relationship to the amount of scratches on your ankles and arms, the number of mosquitoes and deer flies swatted, and the quantity of burrs stuck to your clothing and hair.  And where you may go searching only to find that the bears have beat you to them, like they or some other hungry four-footed creature did to my secret gooseberry patch last week!  Though thankfully (or would that be regretfully?) I have never had the pleasure of actually meeting a bear while out picking!

But the rewards of your labor are berries with flavor that no cultivated varieties can ever quite manage to live up to.  Entirely worth the trouble.  And, like I said, best eaten straight off the bush.

handful of raspberries / rejoicing hillswild raspberries / rejoicing hillsI wonder if God smacked His lips when He made raspberries?  Certainly He must have smiled to Himself as He anticipated our enjoyment of them!

“And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food”…And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”  (Genesis 1:29, 31)

With the memory of sweet-tart sun-drenched berry juice fresh on my mind, yet again, I have to agree.


oriental poppy / rejoicing hillsThe Oriental poppies along the milk house are exploding fiery orange and black right now, as stunning as the fireworks will be against the evening sky all over our nation tonight.  As we celebrate the birthday of this land we love, I offer this verse of our national hymn as a prayer, both in gratefulness for our heritage, and for the revival of her people:

“Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast;
Be Thou our ruler, guardian, guide and stay,
Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.”

For “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”  (Proverbs 14:34)