"Hey Mom, do you smell that?" I blurted out in the middle of the produce department at the grocery store.
Mom had a look of deep concentration on her face, as she sorted through her coupons. Eventually, she realized I had said something. “Smell what?”
"Grandma Mimi’s kitchen," I was excited now. School would be out for the summer soon. That meant that we would head to visit Mimi and Lloyd for a month. We did this every year in the middle of summer.
My mind whirled with memories of visiting my maternal grandparents in The Dalles, Oregon. We would come home after our visit with dark tanned skin and freckles. Our hair would be faded blonde from playing endlessly in the sunny dry climate.
Mimi and Lloyd had huge gardens where they grew all kinds of vegetables. She had her own garden separate from Grandpa Lloyd's. I think they secretly competed with each other to see who could grow the best vegetables. Sometimes Mimi would catch Grandpa in her garden looking around and she would tell him to mind his own garden.
Grandpa struggled sometimes with picking his vegetables because he had color blindness. When he drove downtown, he would stop at the blinking yellow light because he couldn't tell if it was yellow or red. All my life it was a yellow blinking light, but I couldn't convince him. "B-b-better safe than s-s-s-sorry”, he struggled through his stutter. I gave up telling him it was yellow.
One time, I remember Mimi came in the kitchen with an assortment of vegetables from her garden. Grandpa sat up and took notice of what she had. After stewing in his thoughts for awhile, he asked me if I wanted to walk with him out to his garden. He made sure Mimi didn’t see us sneak out the back door. Grandpa's garden was a lot bigger than Mimi's. He took pride in that, for sure. It took us a long time to wander through and check his garden.
"W-w-what color is this tomato?" He asked as he stuttered through his toothless grin.
"Kinda orange… not red like Mimi's tomatoes yet." My nose wrinkled as I avoided the sun’s glare to look up at him.
"Hmph" He would scratch at his whiskers and scowl.
I let my bare toes dig into the dirt and waited to see what we would check next. We rarely ever wore shoes at their house. It just seemed to be the way it should be. Running around barefoot all summer through the gardens felt great. It gave me a feeling of childish freedom. Grandpa never really talked much to anyone, but he talked to me. We had a special bond, I guess.
"Look Grandpa! Your corn sure is tall."
Grandpa started towards the corn and winked at me, "G-g-got both yellow and white corn this year." He stated with pride. "This is the y-y-yellow one 'cause the kernels are b-bigger, but the white corn is sweeter."
I think he liked the fact that he could tell the difference between the yellow and the white kernels. I tried not to giggle but I couldn't help it. Grandpa just winked at me and then we made our rounds through the watermelons, onions, cucumbers, carrots and squash.
When we were done, we walked into Mimi's kitchen to the familiar smell of the fresh vegetables. As Grandpa let the screen door slam behind us, Mimi looked up from her dinner preparations. She watched him until they made eye contact.
Mimi smiled and winked while I pulled up a stool to watch her work. She hand dipped the large rings of onions and dropped them into the hot oil. Another favorite summer memory, homemade onion rings from Grandpa Lloyd’s huge Walla Walla Sweet onions. I am pretty sure she did this as a peace offering.
The memory played out in my mind as Mom continued to shop. My imagination went crazy as I pictured the rows of vegetables down the aisles of the store. I wiggled my toes inside my sneakers, willing them to be free of there prison of shoes. Later, as I helped my mom put the grocery bags into the car I buried my face into the bag with the vegetables.
“Mmmmmm, smells like Grandma’s kitchen.” Soon we would be going to Grandma's.
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