Grandma’s Grave Surprise

This morning about 6 am, I knelt on my kneeling bench next to the huge brick flower bed beside the sidewalk leading up to my house. A dozen plants needed to be planted before my flower bed was complete, and I wanted to get them in early, before the sun started scorching them. I planted some blue lobelia, my favorite bedding plant, and then put in some sort of orange colored African daisies, as well as some petunias. Finally just two plants remained–both of them leafy, whitish Dusty Millers.

Perhaps because of the Dusty Millers, or perhaps because we’ve just passed Memorial Day weekend, I remembered something that happened when I was in my first year of college. It’s become a classic family memory. If you’ve known me very long, you may have heard this story, but I thought it worth retelling.

My grandmother, Lillian Mason, died around that time. She’d asked to be buried in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, near where she’d been raised. We lived in Northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula then, and as Memorial Day approached, my mom picked up some bedding plants she thought would be pretty together and drove down to Chippewa Falls to plant them on Grandma’s grave. About July first, my mom asked if I’d go with her to Chippewa Falls once again so that she could settle some details of Gram’s estate. We would also, she commented, go to the cemetary and make sure that the plants were okay.

When we arrived at the cemetary, we walked across the peaceful, tree-shaded lawn toward the headstone marking my grandmother’s grave. Even as we left the car, I could see the flowers blooming vigorously in front of the marker. As we got closer, though, it seemed to me that some of the plants looked a little…different. Being the horticultural ignoramus I was then (and still am to some extent), I didn’t say anything about the anomaly.

My mother stopped at the graveside and stared down at the flowers. “What’s that thing? I didn’t plant anything that was supposed to look like that!

I followed her gaze. In the center of the colorful assortment of annuals stood several large, aggressive, green plants with knobbly heads that looked like…”Mom!” I gasped. “That’s broccoli!”

“It’s no such thing,” my mom insisted. “I planted a bunch of pansies and some petunias, and some of that Dusty Miller plant in the center. It can’t be broccoli.”

I reached down to snap off an immature head, holding it up for her inspection. “It is, though. Definitely broccoli.”

My mom’s face reflected the wild impropriety of the moment. Broccoli? Here?

We looked up and our eyes met.She shuddered and shook her head. “How awful! I planted broccoli on my mother’s grave.”

I clasped my hand over my mouth to prevent laughter from leaking out. But the irrepressible chokes and snorts escaped, and my mother also began to grin. And then to laugh and laugh. At last we sank to the ground beside the grave, still chuckling. I patted the mound beside me. “I think Grandma would have thought the broccoli was pretty funny, too, don’t you?”

My mom wiped her eyes and nodded. “Let’s just leave it here. It’ll make people wonder! She’d like that.”

We returned to our car, smiling and content–and somehow closer to my grandmother because of the laughter we’d shared at her graveside.

“You know,” Mom speculated as we drove away. “When broccoli is young, it has sort of powdery looking gray leaves. I remember the greenhouse where I bought the plants had the annuals all mixed together with the vegetables. I’ll just bet someone accidentally stuck some of their broccoli transplants in with the Dusty Millers.”

That’s probably what happened, too. All these years later, I never plant Dusty Miller without a smile, remembering my Mom and my grandmother, and the day we found the broccoli on Grandma’s grave.

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