When you walk up to my front door, you are surrounded by about one dozen individually potted purple flowers and one young Leyland Cypress tree. Please don’t ask me what kind of flowers. All I know is they are purple and very easy to maintain. Purple was my wife, Susie’s, favorite color.
These flowers and one small tree were planted by my grandchildren Aryion, whom we have nicknamed “Ry Ry,” and Haley, whom we call “Ms. Haley.”
I hope they never outgrow this phase in their young lives, but all I need to do is call and let them know I need help doing yard work. The first question my 5-year-old grandson, Ry Ry, asks is, “What day and time will I be picking them up?” And then he checks with his mom, Yvonne, about his very busy social calendar to make sure his schedule is clear.
And he then checks to make sure his older sister, Ms. Haley, can come and help, and that I have work gloves for them both and that we will have time to stop by McDonald's for his favorite breakfast and will we be having lunch with Kiki, who is his Aunt Nikki, my eldest daughter, and will we have time to go to Chucky Cheese before I take them home? Ry Ry asks this all in one breath.
Ms. Haley has conceded to Ry Ry’s expert helping-grandpa-do-yard-work negotiating skills.
Yard work was an excuse I would use to spend quality time with my now-adult children. When Nikki, Brenna, Sean and Aaron were much younger, they really seemed to enjoy our Saturdays helping cut the lawn, trimming the grass and general yard tasks. Of course, all this was done when they completed their numerous mom house chores.
It may have taken me longer to finish whatever yard tasks we had, but we really had lots of fun and I truly enjoyed this special yard time with them. And now I have the privilege of doing this with my grandchildren.
I am almost certain my having fun-doing-yard-work mentality is rooted in my younger days growing up on Watts Drive in southeast Bakersfield.
There was rarely a summer morning that my grandmother would let us boys sleep in. Yard duty was an imperative with my grandma. She insisted we do our yard chores before the dreaded summer heat would swelter on us. “Evil finds work for idle hands,” she would loosely say in Spanish.
Please remember that my Grandma Ochoa was a saint, but even when my dad displayed his toughest Marine Corps persona, he was no match for grandma on yard duty. Remember the scene from “Cool Hand Luke” where the chain-gang captain said to Paul Newman’s character, “What we have here is a failure to communicate?" Although I have no proof, that movie character had to have been based on my saintly Grandma Ochoa.
My Grandma Ochoa came to live with our family to help my dad raise me, my four brothers and three sisters after my mom died from leukemia.
Our small home on Watts Drive in southeast Bakersfield was a modest, three-bedroom house with one bathroom and a moderate front yard and with a huge backyard. There was an endless list of yard chores to be completed. And although Grandma Ochoa could be very tough on us, my brothers and I seemed to be having fun the whole time. My grandma was magical that way — hard work had to be done, but let’s have fun doing it.
So I have tried to pass that characteristic on to my children and now I’m trying to do the same with my grandchildren.
“Oh no, grandpa, don’t pick up that bag. Let me do it.” “Grandpa, how much dirt do I put in this pot?” “Oh no, grandpa, you sit right there. Don’t get up, me and Haley will do it!”
Is it working? I pray it to be so.
I don’t see purple flowers on our front porch. I see and can feel memories of my children and grandchildren. And I pray that when I am gone, they will see and feel the same about their grandpa.