Sweet Shrub and Grandmother


The title of this post sounds like a title from a bad 70’s action movie! (Remember Thunderbolt and Lightfoot? Tango & Cash? Why not Sweet Shrub and Grandmother, starring Holly Hunter and Betty White?)

But I digress…

This plant is one that I came across during my recent trip to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. I know it as a Sweet Shrub (aka Calycanthus floridus), and I have rarely seen or smelled its flower since I enjoyed the one in my grandmother’s yard many years ago.

In the very corner of her yard, underneath the shade of a large mimosa tree, there was this small shrub/bush that had the most fragrant flowers. I remember that every Sunday in the spring and early summer when we would visit my grandmother, I would stop and smell the sweet shrub flowers. It’s a very distinctive smell and hard to describe…. something like strong pineapple or almost-ready-to-ferment fruit.

My grandmother’s name was Gertrude, and she died in1983 at age 91. I don’t remember the exact day that she died, but she had a stroke and went into a coma on the day I got my first real job out of college. She passed away not too long afterwards. My aunts and uncles were kind enough to let me have her bedroom suite and some of her furniture for my first apartment which I got a month later.

Going to her house almost every Sunday, I would play with all the cousins in her yard while the adults talked. The large, silver natural gas cylinder at the side of her house was alternately our horse, our ship, our school, our slide, and whatever else we could imagine for hours at a time. A lone pecan tree stood in her back yard for many years, and I remember our family being the beneficiaries of many hours of her selfless labor, not only picking up the pecans, but cracking, shelling, and cleaning them too.

Inside her home, it fascinated me that she had a washing machine that still had a hand crank to press the water out of the clothes. It seemed to me as if she was a pioneer woman! As she got older, I dreaded going to her house in winter because she would have on one space heater in the kitchen, blasting it to what felt like was 95 degrees in there!

I saw her every Sunday at church as well. She always sat on the right side on the fourth pew. She was one of the women who always had hard candy, and would absentmindedly (or hard-of-hearingly) unwrap the really loud cellophane during the service. If it ever bothered the preacher, he didn’t let on, but I remember thinking I’d get popped on the leg if I made that much noise during church! :)

She loved crosswords puzzles, jumbles, and word searches, and I would like to think that working those brain teasers helped her stay mentally agile. I hope Sudoku will do the same for me. :)

I don’t remember any real heart-to-heart conversations with her, but I do have several good memories about her that make me smile.

Coming across this one sweet shrub flower in the gardens made me smile too.

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