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Indian wisdom says our lives are rivers. We are born somewhere small and quiet and we move toward a place we can not see, but only imagine. Along our journey, people and events flow into us, and we are created of everywhere and everyone we have passed. Each event, each person, changes us in some way. Even in times of drought we are still moving and growing, but it is during seasons of rain that we expand the most—when water flows from all directions, sweeping at terrifying speed, chasing against rocks, spilling over boundaries. These are painful times, but they enable us to carry burdens we could never have thought possible.
This I learned from my grandmother, when my life was rushing with torrential speed and hers was slowly ebbing into the sea. I think it was God's plan that we came together at this time. To carry each other's burden. To remind ourselves of what we had been and would someday become.
Floods are painful, but they are necessary. They keep us clear and strong. They move our lives onto new paths.
A winter rain was falling the day we drove the potholed gravel drive to the Missouri farmhouse my great-grandparents had built on a bluff above Mulberry Creek. As straight as one of the grand porch pillars, and as much a part of the house, Grandma watched as we wound through the rivers of muddy water flowing down the hill. She frowned and wrung her hands as the car tires spun, throwing gravel against the ancient trees along the drive. No doubt she was worried that we would damage her prized silver maples.
A sick feeling started in my throat and fell to my stomach like a swallowed ice cube. I looked at Ben in the driver's seat and the baby asleep in the car seat behind us. This would probably be the longest December and the worst Christmas of our lives.
It would only be a matter of time before Grandma figured out why we had come, and war broke out. Even now, she was looking at us with mild suspicion, no doubt calculating why we were arriving three weeks early for Christmas. She wouldn't be fooled for long into thinking this was just a casual visit. That was the wishful thinking of a bunch of relatives hoping to postpone the problem of Grandma Rose until they were off work for the Christmas holiday.
In a perfect world, all of them would have been rushing to Grandma's side, whether it was convenient or not. In a perfect world, I wouldn't have been looking at my grandmother with a sense of dread, and I wouldn't have been looking at my baby and wondering if the trip was too much for him and if it was wise to take him so far from his doctors. In a perfect world, babies are born healthy, and medical bills don't snowball into the tens of thousands of dollars, and grandmothers don't almost burn down their houses, and family members don't go years without speaking to one another, and Christmas is a time to look forward to....
But those of us who aren't perfect do the best we can. With me on maternity leave and Ben able to do most of his work in structural design anywhere there was a computer and a phone line, we were the logical choice to stay at the farm the next few weeks and make sure Grandma Rose didn't burn down the rest of the house before the family could figure out what to do about her.
But I never imagined how I would feel when we turned the corner to the house. I never thought the sight of my grandmother, ramrod straight on the porch, would turn me into that six-year-old girl who hated to enter that house. It wasn't Grandma I hated. It was the house, the constant fuss about scuffing the floors, and scraping the walls, and tracking mud on the rugs—as if the house were more important than the children in it.
From the porch, Grandma flailed her arms and yelled something we couldn't understand.
"She's..." Ben squinted through the rain. "...Telling me how to park."
"If it weren't raining, she'd be climbing into the driver's seat." I was joking, of course—mostly. I wondered if Ben had any inkling of how difficult she could be. He hadn't been around her much in the ten years we'd been married. He'd never seen her standing at the door inspecting people's shoes for mud like a drill sergeant, or putting coasters under people's drinks, or listening to the plumbing to make sure no one was flushing too much toilet paper. He didn't know that food was forbidden in the living room and that you were not allowed to step from the bath until every ounce of water was drained from the tub and toweled from your body. And that the towels then had to be folded in triplicate and hung on the bar immediately so they would not mildew....
He didn't have a clue what I was thinking. He grinned as he put the car in park, stretched his neck, and combed his fingers through the dark curls of his hair. "We made it. I'm ready for a rest. Then I need to get the computer plugged in and see if there's any more word on that Randolph Stores job." The undercurrent of worry about money was unmistakable. Since Joshua's birth, it was the unspoken nuance of every conversation we had. It was all Ben thought about. He didn't have time to consider how we were going to get along with our new landlady. Besides, he always got along with everybody. It was one of the things I loved and hated about him.
Sun broke through the clouds as we covered Joshua and hurried to the porch. Grandma waited for us at the steps and pushed open the screen, holding around her shoulders a psychedelic afghan I had made in art class. The picture of her standing there in my awful crocheted creation with her hair flying in the wind made me smile.
Coming closer, I noticed how much she had aged, how her cheeks, once plump and naturally blushed, were now hollow and pale. Her shoulders, once straight, now bent forward as she moved. I realized how long it had been since I had come to the farm, and I felt an intense pang of guilt. Six years. Gone in the blink of an eye. The last time I came was for my mother's funeral.
Grandma squinted as we came closer, as if she were looking at strangers. "Katie? Is that you?" She craned forward and took on a look of recognition. "Oh, yes, I'd know those Vongortler brown eyes anywhere. You're just as pretty as ever...but you've let your hair grow long."
The last part sounded like a complaint, and I wasn't sure what to say. I found myself self-consciously smoothing the wisps of shoulder-length dark hair into my hair clip. I wondered how she had expected me to look.
Grandma didn't wait for my reply. "My word! I've been worried sick." She looked as if she'd been walking the floors since before dawn. "I expected you this morning, and here it is two o'clock, and with this rain going on, I just thought the road was icy and you had slipped into the ditch."
"Grandma, I told you we wouldn't be here until afternoon." I would have blamed her forgetfulness on the stroke, except that for as long as I could remember, she'd been purposely forgetting things she didn't want to hear. I took comfort in the fact that in this respect she hadn't changed. "Besides, it's fifty-five degrees outside. There is no ice."
She gave me a blank smile that told me she wasn't digesting a word. "I thought for sure you'd be here for lunch. Katie, you look like you could use a little farm cooking. You're far too thin, just as you always were. Now, I've got biscuits, some green beans, green-pea salad, and a good roast, but it's cold now. Oh, look at the baby!" Joshua was still sound asleep in his carrier. "I'll put it in the oven and warm it up."
I hoped she meant the roast.
Ben shot me a grin and crossed his eyes as she went through the side door into the kitchen. His crooked grin made me laugh, and I coughed to cover it up as Grandma looked suspiciously over her shoulder.
When she turned away, Ben pointed to the huge stain around the door frame and his eyes widened.
I stopped, taken aback by the extent of the smoke damage. The sheriff hadn't been exaggerating when he called Aunt Jeane in St. Louis to warn her that Grandma's mental slips were getting dangerous—more dangerous than her occasionally puttering to town in the old car she refused to part with, even though the doctor had told her she shouldn't drive anymore and she had promised Aunt Jeane she wouldn't. She had also promised Aunt Jeane she would use a timer to make sure the iron and the coffeepot weren't left on, but in truth, what she had tried to pass off as "the iron getting too hot" had been a potentially serious fire. The iron must have been left unattended for hours.
If I had been in denial before, I was now fully awakened to the fact that something had to be done about Grandma Rose.
Still talking, she walked past the soot, as if oblivious to it, ignoring the evidence that she'd almost burned down the utility room a few days before. "Well, come on in. It's cold out there," she snapped. "Now, I'll take care of the baby and you two can just eat and rest. You can wait a while to bring in your things. Just make yourselves at home in here. I had that neighbor boy help me move some of my things to the little house out back. I'll stay out there so as to ease the strain on that septic line here in the basement. All of us in the house might just be too much waste going down." She set the stoneware plates in the oven and lit the gas with a long match. "Now, I never leave this pilot running on the oven. It's no problem to light it each time, and it saves on gas." Closing the oven door, she paused to clean the fog from her eyeglasses, then let them hang from the chain around her neck and walked back to the table. "There now, you two just get what you need. I'll look after the baby. He'll surely be waking up."
Joshua obliged with a squall the moment we turned our backs on Grandma and the baby carrier.
And so began our trip down the rapids.
—From Tending Roses by Lisa Wingate. (c) June 2001, New American Library Trade, used by permission.
SOURCE: Interview provided courtesy of Penguin Putnam.
SOURCE: Discussion questions provided courtesy of Penguin Putnam.
Posted February 1, 2013
Posted July 28, 2012
I have read several of Lisa's books and have to say I have not been disappointed yet! I found one of Lisa's books at a used bookstore and thought it looked good. Now I own several in paperback and Nook books. For me these books have been "a little something to feel good about" in a world where a lot of times what we see and hear does just the opposite. If you think the story sounds like something youd enjoy, have a little faith and give them a try! ;)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 19, 2012
A lesson in wisdom and age. Listen and appreciate your elders. They know more than you. Many people do not take heed to their elderly grandparents/parents. Read this book and decide
For yourself. Loved this read!
Posted March 2, 2009
Posted May 31, 2007
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The story is simple with several good lessons for young parents as well as families with aging members. I haven't enjoyed a book this much for a long time. A nice summer read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 9, 2007
A tender and touching story that hooks you from the first page and lures you deep into the world of the easily forgotten... I guarantee you won't forget this one! It will have you looking at those around you in a different light! Excellent writing did this story justice! Thanks to Lisa Wingate for such a wonderful treat! (If you are into couples reading this one is great when read aloud! My husband thoroughly enjoyed it too!)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2005
It was a great book ! I loved it ! I know I whould love it from the frist page.It was awesome.I recommened it to all,READ IT yourself and I strongly believe you'll feel the same.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 21, 2005
Not only is Lisa Wingate¿s novel, Tending Roses, a beautifully written novel, but it also shares a gentle wisdom about families and relationships. I read this novel at a time in my life when I was making decisions about my own family: when to have my first child, whether or not to stay home with my children or to have a career (or both), how to care for aging grandparents, and reconciling strained parent and sibling relationships. By reading this novel, I became more aware that all families have struggles and go through trials and tribulations, and I felt reassured to see that Lisa Wingate, as many other women, have grappled with similar issues and successfully reconciled them. It warmed my heart, and I remind myself often to treat my family with love and respect because I recognize what an important part of my life they are. Enjoy this novel; I think that anyone who reads this will find something that they can relate to.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 2, 2004
I think this is a must read for anyone who's parents or grandparents are going to grow old. The lessons in it are timeless and the author really puts you in touch with them and you grow to really care about them. I have loaned this book to several people and they have all also loved it.
0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 27, 2004
Tending Roses is a sweet read, and very gently, it reminds the reader of the importance of the past in our modern lives. A great way to spend an afternoon getting a feel good infusion of sugar feelings.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 28, 2004
A wonderful, inspirational story about real people. I remember feeling much like Katie when I was young with small children and working outside our home, how wonderful it would have been to have my Grandmother's journal, although I do have her stories. I will read this book again after I share it with my friends.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 9, 2003
Tending Roses,was a great book, one of the best i have read in a long time. I first read this book a couple of years ago when it first came out. My family and I are from a nice country town in Missouri, So it has brought back a lot of great memories.This book has also helped me to prepare for the future, talking with my father before he passed away. My father and I were close, but became closer listening to stories of when he was growning up in Missouri.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 27, 2003
A really great read with realistic characters in a realistic story. A book I will keep forever, after sharing it with many friends and family members. This is the kind of book we love to share around the office. It makes you feel good and makes you think about life and what is important. Don't miss it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 3, 2003
I bought this book because the plot is uplifting and well-intentioned. But I found myself way too many times feeling like I was reading a novel written by a high school English student--descriptions were way too syrupy and lackluster, like the author was trying TOO hard to get us to understand. I tried my hardest to like the book but gave up and put it down after the fourth chapter, which is too bad because the book had real potential.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 12, 2003
I found this to be the kind of awesome read that would appeal to readers of any age, at almost any time in life. The writing transported me into the lives of the characters, but in a way, it was about my own life as well. The family dynamic is like so many today, and the way Grandma Rose chooses to bring her bickering family back together is so inspired, and inspiring. I bought copies to send to family members, and it brought about many long talks about things we had never discussed. If you want to share a meaningful book with someone you love, this is it, but don't forget to get a copy for yourself, as well. Thank you, Lisa Wingate!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 11, 2003
Our book group of army families read Tending Roses as our December selection. Everyone in the book club loved it, and we had the best discussion we've ever shared. No doubt in my mind, this is the best book I have ever read, and I know I will go back and read it a second time, then save it for my daughters. I felt like I was right there with the characters, and there is so much wisdom here about family, faith, and all of the things we as army personnel, and Americans, ought to cherish. It is one of those books you "get" on so many different levels. I'm planning to share it with my mom and sisters and grandmother for Mother's Day. I know it will be as special to them as it was to me, and I hope it will bring up some family memories with my grandmother. It would speak to almost anyone of any age, and it certainly spoke to me!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 11, 2003
I don't agree at all with the reviewer who didn't like this book. I didn't think the descriptions were syrupy, or lackluster, or that it read like it was written by a high school English student, and I'm a high school English TEACHER, so I'm a pretty good judge of that. Tending Roses was a well balanced, well written, realistic novel, and it was absolutely charming. The characters were real, the descriptions wonderful, and the story very touching. I read it through in one sitting, loved every minute of it, and didn't want it to end.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 12, 2003
I'm in the army book group too, and we very much enjoyed Tending Roses. It was just a good, down-to-earth story that didn't use "shock value" to get its point across. Grandma Roses's journal entries were beautiful, and truly inspired me to look at my life. "Family values" has become this comfortable buzz phrase we use without really thinking about what it means, and it's nice to read something that reminds you of the true meaning of the words. It's also refreshing to read an author who talks about real people and real problems in a down-to-earth way, without stooping to overblown literary devices to make the book seem important. The book is important because the issues are so real. It was inspiring, touching, and skillfully written, a top read for me, something other readers shouldn't miss.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 17, 2003
I loved Tending Roses! It was a great book to curl up with on a cold winter evening--but get ready, because once you pick it up, you won't be able to put it down. The characters were so well done and the setting was so real, I would look up from time to time, expecting to find myself at the farm. It's a very special read, one you remember long after you finish, and one you want to share with friends!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 1, 2002
This book is unforgettable. I find myself thinking about Grandma Rose and her litlle bits of advice in my own day to day Life. I highly recommend this book and will give it as christmas presents this year.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.