I watched through the kitchen window as she emerged from the backside of the garage. I was standing precariously on the top of a chair so that I was able to reach the faucet with my glass. Instead of filling it, I watched as she stepped forcefully across the frozen ground, it’s grass plastered flat across it.
Her coat was grey, thick, and wool. The sleeves were equally as short as its length, barely covering her elbows and the coat only covering her a few inches below her knees,. This exposed her leg down to the top of her socks, which were thin and white, barely sticking out of the tops of her low cut shoes. Shoes that were thick and hard, able to withstand the constant battering as she stepped over and kicked small clods of dirt and hard frozen chunks of snow out of her way as she approached the garden.
Seldom did she stumble when one of those things remained hardened to the ground, refusing to move even with the effort from the toes of her shoes. She merely stepped higher, over the stubborn obstacle, and continued onward. It was only forty feet or so, and her long, steady strides brought her to the edge of the garden quickly. Grandma was tall and stout.
Now that she was out from behind the house the wind blew at her back, pushing the long cotton dress against the back of her calves, below the bottom of the coat. It occasionally billowed upward with a gust, exposing the bare skin. The calves themselves were easily as hard as the frozen clods of dirt that she walked through. They barely clenched and relaxed with each step, mostly remaining a hard bulge at the back of her legs even while she walked. The skin was equally stiff, looking tanned and as rigid as leather, but much whiter with rough, red splotches, and blue patches where her blood shown through from the veins that were too close to the skin.
The scarf blew in front of her, while in back it dangled down from her neck as the wind held it tightly to her as it draped down her back, too heavy for even the steady wind to blow it up and over her shoulders where the rest of it lay. It’s colors were stripes that ran around it in bands about three or four inches wide. When I had bought it they were as bright as any Christmas decoration, but now they had faded over the years and the multitude of washings, until they were slowly becoming nearly indistinguishable from each other.
At the far end of the garden she bent over, and pulled at the low growing plants that hadn’t quite lost their green color yet. Winter had come early for everything above the ground, freezing it and hardening the once pliant leaves and further stiffening the stems into brittle sticks that shattered before they would bend. But underground the frost hadn’t gotten very far, the dirt was still loose and dry.
Some of these upright sticks were too tough to break, and she pulled with her strong fingers wrapped around them. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be the will or the strength of my grandmother. Loosened dirt flew in the wind while a brightly colored vegetable was newly exposed to the fresh air. Grandma knocked several of these treasures together, relieving them of most of the clinging dirt while dangling from between her fingers. Like much of the snow around her already, the falling and blowing dirt darkened it with brown dust.
The taller plants were orange with the now frozen tomatoes that moved only slightly as the wind weakened a stem, but couldn’t quite break the vine free from the larger, upright plant. Eventually the wind would win of course and the tomatoes would end up beneath the snow with most of the leaves and smaller tendrils of the tomato plants.
But until they did, and the frozen vegetables began to rot and crystalize in the winter, they were still usable in various recipes when they were thawed inside the house or in the garage where she kept her garden tools, seeds, and vegetables going in one direction or the other. This was also where her tiny plantings were kept protected from the weather while they were establishing roots, spreading leaves that would eventually gather sunlight in the early spring. Right now it also housed the vegetables that had been harvested normally, before the winter had claimed the outside weather as its own.
Her apron filled, she turned around to head back to the house. It was the same apron that had once been white in the center, decorated around the outside with yellow and blue flowers, interwoven with green plants and vines arranged much more precisely than nature did, where necessity was more important. Now the white center was heavily stained with browns and some blacks, making it look continually dirty even though this was never true. It was frequently washed by hand, and the dirt knocked off of it promptly after each load of vegetables or fruit was carried into the house.
The wind now blew against her legs, exposing them further up as the dress tried to hide under the coat, and behind her in the shelter of her hard thighs as even the corners of the heavy coat curled upward. Her dress was also flattened against her, it’s cotton print and the white slip peeking underneath it and outlining her legs beneath them.
The skin of her face mirrored that of her legs, but with much more redness, and many more wrinkles, but equally tough around the eyes and protruding nose. Her lips were thin and nearly white, being pulled taunt against the wind’s efforts to dry them.
With her head tilted downward I could barely make out the double bulge of her chin as it rested in the scarf covering her neck. Her arms cradled the rolled up apron to keep its load from falling out of the corners and onto the frozen ground.
I thought she might have glanced up at me in the window and I ducked instinctively. I was allowed to use the chair for water, but not to stretch myself out far enough to be staring out of the window as I was doing when she caught me. I hoped she wouldn’t be angry at me when she came into the house. I always wanted to make Grandma happy, just as she did for me.