A woman finds hope and connection on the farm that gave her grandma life and love.
Dea Sofie Kudsk
My grandmother is the heroine in this story. It’s all about her hands, her head with the blue and white scarf, her red braids hanging down her back while she is out there in the fields. Making sure everybody will be well-fed when winter comes.
As I write this, I am just back from the hospital. My grandmother has been there since yesterday. She was taken there by ambulance, as she had fainted. Now so small that I can see her bones, her blue hands where they tried to get the needles in. And yet I am not ready to accept that one day she won’t be here anymore. She is the mother of us all.
She was planning what to do with the garden this spring. Maybe not so many tomatoes this year, as she can no longer eat tomatoes because of the cancer — but there have to be tomatoes in the garden anyway.
My grandmother grew up on a poor farm during the Second World War, some 150 kilometers from the bigger and richer farm owned by my grandfather’s family. It was his mother who had inherited it from her parents. My grandmother came by bus to work on my grandfather’s farm. She told me she knew nothing of this new place or the people who lived there. She started working in my grandfather’s house. They fell in love and got married, and four kids were born. My grandmother would take care of the kids, work in the house, milk the cows, and work in the fields.
They would mix seeds. Carrots, cabbage — all kinds of them — onions, maybe more. The vegetables would grow in a beautiful disorder. Planting and tending them, that was my grandmother’s responsibility. In another field they had potatoes.
Cabbage is a practical vegetable. You can leave it out in the field during winter. It even tastes better after the first frost.
Soil and seeds and water and sun. The wind almost always coming from the west, the trees bending like that, an organic triangle in the landscape.
And that wind shapes the people as well, their relationship to the land and the work. You give and hope to receive. And pray that rain will come in the right amount and the sun will shine at the right time. That there will be no frost in spring when sprouts are already looking up.
My grandmother knows when to do everything.
There is intimacy.
That is what I feel, that there always was intimacy between my grandmother and the land she worked.
Intimacy meaning struggle and love.
My grandmother could move more weight on a wheelbarrow than I was able to, until a few years ago. And now I see her there in the hospital bed, it’s all white around her. It should be green, she should be out enjoying this blue sky and all the leaves and flowers, oh, and the wild garlic, it’s everywhere now, all over the forest, the smell so intense. Now she has a tube in her nose. I know she has lived this long because she is the land, because she woke up early every day to work the land, to plant and water and harvest and love. The land has given her life.
The land has given her life.
When my grandmother turned ninety, she couldn’t take care of the house and the big garden any longer. This house where she lived for so many years is where I live now. I try to do her justice, to know almost beforehand what will happen now. But this is a practice, a relationship that needs time. I forget the names she tells me, the different ways to use which plants. Then I ask again and again. I bring her samples and food made with the plants that grow here. She knows more than any book, she knows every part of this garden. There is a part where the soil is quite sandy, potatoes can grow there. Other parts are wet. Or there are spots with sun, some with shadow. My grandmother cared for, loved, every petal, sprout, leaf, stem, seed. I try to do the same.
I sit by her side, and she asks me about that specific plant in that specific place. If I have seen it before, I must confess to her I haven’t been in that part of the garden this week. I need more time to learn from her. My hands need to know the plants and the soil like hers do.
My grandmother cared for, loved, every petal, sprout, leaf, stem, seed. I try to do the same.
Where she lives now she has a small garden. When she moved there it was just grass. The first summer she spent there, she was already eating from the garden. Salad, potatoes, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, rhubarb, strawberries.
And I tell myself there is still time.
I ask for one more spring, if only just one more spring.
And a morning, fresh, and blue sky.
And my grandmother in that bed in the hospital, she remembers the work in the fields. Never-ending work. Any morning, solstice, equinox, the year. That way of working with your hands, with your body. Forcing, asking, begging the harvest to be abundant.
That body in the hospital bed is made of soil.
I have never heard my grandmother ask for an easier life.
It’s impossible for either of us to imagine a life without a garden.
We cannot imagine spring without starting to plan what to grow in our gardens. There is hope in our hands.
I forgot to bring her flowers today, and I was supposed to bring her pesto made with wild garlic, but she is not eating. It was a hospital bed and no flowers. And I look outside, see purple and blue and yellow and white. Small flowers. Spring is the time of small, humble flowers, but oh, humbleness is all we need. Those flowers tell us that we are being reborn, that spring is really here.
My grandmother, Bes Jørgensen, passed away on summer solstice, 2022. She was ninety-three years old.
Dea Sofie Kudsk is a published writer from Denmark. Her three novels, Bogotana, fjorden kysten (the fjord, the coast), and Udstrakt landskab (Extensive landscape), are all somehow about belonging, place, and movement. Along with her sister, she took over her grandmother’s farmhouse in 2018. She divides her time between Denmark and Colombia, where her husband is from.