When Kate Bowman temporarily moves to her grandmother’s Missouri farm with her husband and baby son, she learns that the lessons that most enrich our lives often come unexpectedly. The family has given Kate the job of convincing Grandma Rose, who’s become increasingly stubborn and forgetful, to move off her beloved land and into a nursing home. But Kate knows such a change would break her grandmother’s heart.
Just when Kate despairs of finding answers, she discovers her grandma’s journal. A beautiful handmade notebook, it is full of stories that celebrate the importance of family, friendship, and faith. Stories that make Kate see her life—and her grandmother—in a completely new way....
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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.
—Reprinted from Tending Roses by Lisa Wingate by permission of New American Library, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright — June 2001, Lisa Wingate. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
What People are Saying About This
“You can’t put it down without…taking a good look at your own life and how misplaced priorities might have led to missed opportunities. Tending Roses is an excellent read for any season, a celebration of the power of love.”—El Paso Times
“This novel’s strength is its believable characters…Many readers will see themselves in Kate, who is so wrapped up in her own problems that she fails to see the worries of others.”—American Profiles Weekly Magazine
“Get your tissues or handkerchief ready. You’re going to need them when you read Lisa Wingate’s book, Tending Roses. Your emotions will run the gamut from laughing loudly to shedding tears as you read the story.”—McAlester News-Capital & Democrat
“Wingate’s touching story of love and faith proves the old adage that we should take time to smell the roses and try to put our modern problems in perspective.”—Booklist
“A story at once gentle and powerful about the very old and the very young, about the young woman who loves them all. In Kate, Lisa Wingate has created a wonderful character.”—Luanne Rice, New York Times bestselling author of True Blue
Reading Group Guide
The lessons that most enrich our lives often come at unexpected moments and from unlikely places. That's what Katie Benson learns when she moves temporarily—with her husband Ben and baby son—to her grandmother's Missouri farm. She arrives at a time of crisis and indecision—struggling with the demands of being a new mother, a not-so-new wife, and a well-meaning but often impatient granddaughter. The family has assigned her and Ben the job of convincing Grandma Rose, who's become increasingly stubborn and forgetful, to move off the land that means so much to her and into a nursing home. Katie knows such a change would break her grandmother's heart. But what is right for her grandmother? And what is right for herself and her family?
Just when Katie despairs of finding answers, she discovers her grandmother's journal. A beautiful handmade notebook, it is full of heartwarming stories that celebrate the virtue of patience, the power of love, and the importance of family, friendship, and faith. Stories that make Katie see her life—and her grandmother—in a completely new way... and lead her toward a new, more meaningful future...
ABOUT LISA WINGATE
Lisa Wingate graduated from Oklahoma State University with a B.A. in Technical English. She lives on a small ranch in Texas with her husband, Sam, and their two young sons.
AN INTERVIEW WITH LISA WINGATE
Tending Roses has such a wise and universal message. What inspired you to write this book?
The seedling for Tending Roses was planted along with a flower bed my grandmother and I tilled in front of my house ten years ago. As we worked, she gave instructions about simple things she had learned through long years of experience—how to wind the roots around an iris bulb, how to prune the branches on a rosebush, how to cut the blooms without harming the plant.
When my newborn son was fussy, we had to go inside instead of finishing the garden. My grandmother settled into a rocking chair, bundled him on her shoulder, and patted his back lightly—quieting him with a special sort of grandma magic.
Closing her eyes, she rocked slowly back and forth and told me about the time in her life when the roses grew wild. When she finished the last words, a tear fell from beneath her lashes, and she let out a long, slow sigh filled with sadness and longing.
Something profound happened to me then. I understood so much about her and about myself that I had never considered before. I had an almost painful sense of life passing by. I had a sense of life being not just a trip from here to there, but a journey with lots of good stuff, maybe the best stuff, in the middle. I realized that I was so focused on goals down the road, I was missing the value of where I was.
How did this epiphany evolve into a novel?
That night, when the baby was asleep and Grandma had gone to bed, I sat down and wrote the story longhand in a notebook. Over the next several days, I added more of her stories. They remained in the notebook for several years, but I never forgot them. I shared them occasionally with other writers and got a powerful response, but beyond that, I had little idea of what to do with them. They weren't appropriate as stand-alone works, and there were not enough of them to make a book.
So I just left them in a drawer and waited. The idea to use my grandmother's stories in a novel came at a time when I was beginning to feel a strong sense of meaning in my life, about four years after I wrote them. I was now the mother of a newborn, as well as a four-year-old. Because of my husband's career, we had moved to a place deep in the countryside. Life was quiet, and there was much less of familiar noises and busy schedules, shopping trips, dates with friends, phones ringing. I had a great deal of time to reflect on what I valued and what gave me joy and peace. Peace, I determined, was centered around my faith in God, my children, my family, and a desire to do something good with my life.
I think Tending Roses grew out of a need to communicate that process of soul-searching. I stumbled upon my notebook of Grandma's stories while cleaning out a desk drawer, and the idea just came to me. I started writing, and the words flowed so fast, I could hardly keep my hand on the keyboard. When I was finished the first day, I had written two chapters of something that was unlike anything I had ever done. I had never before poured so much of my heart into something or written something that was a combination of my own life and fiction. I had a strong desire to create something that had a sense of goodness to it, where good people do the right thing and wonderful things happen to them.
How long did you spend writing the book?
The original manuscript took about four months to write. It was more like catharsis than work. The words just seemed to flow, almost as if I was typing a book that had already been written somewhere in my mind. Of course, then I had to revise it about four times!
How much of the book is from your own experience?
Kate's feelings about motherhood and the struggle between career, a sense of self, and the demands of motherhood were from my own experience. The difficulty of maintaining self-esteem while being "just" a stay-at-home mom was from my own experience. The power of finding faith in God and forgiveness for those around us were from my own experience, and certainly so were the sense of the importance of parenthood and the need for closeness and the support of extended family.
Happily, a lot of the family problems in the book were fictional. The members of my family are an understanding lot, and we have never suffered the pain of being estranged from one another, though we have often lived at opposite corners of the country, which can create some of the same loneliness and longings.
Your book deals with so many important themes. Which ones do you hope will generate the most discussion?
I think some of the more nebulous themes are the importance of family, the need for forgiveness, and the value of faith. Some of the more concrete themes include the question of motherhood versus career, the notion of quality time versus quantity time with loved ones, the duty to care for one another, especially the elderly, and the difficulty of deciding how best to care for elderly parents and grandparents.
Secondary themes include the importance of active fathers, the materialistic focus of society, the needs of disadvantaged children, and the loss of the family homestead.
What do you see as the most important secondary themes in the book?
Dell's situation is certainly a secondary theme in the book. Thinking about my grandmother's hardships growing up made me realize that, even in this wealthy, advanced, speed-of-light society, many children still grow up with seemingly insurmountable difficulties and desperately need the kindness of strangers. The materialistic focus of today's society is also an important secondary theme. These days, we're convinced we are failures if we don't have everything. My grandmother had a lot to say about that.
The importance of community is an inescapable theme in the book. Human beings are basically tribal animals, and I think that these days a lot of us are missing a tribe.
Where are you personally at this stage of your life?
Well, I am the mother of two young sons who keep me running and keep me laughing. I wanted girls. I got boys. I never dreamed that boys could be so wonderful. But that is another story.
My husband and I live on a small ranch in the Texas hill country—a beautiful area filled with rugged vistas, ancient trees, and a strong sense of the past. We are avid horse people and spend a great deal of our spare time in various equine pursuits. We think we may have watched too many cowboy movies when we were young.
I have always, always, always been a writer, and cannot remember a time when I didn't write. My older brother, Brandon, taught me how to read and write before I started kindergarten. I wrote and illustrated my first book at five years old and have never stopped writing. I had a very special first-grade teacher, who recognized a little ability and a lot of desire in a small, shy transfer student and started reading my stories to the class. I quickly discovered the joy of having an audience and set out on many, many writing projects, with childhood dreams of one day being published.
Somewhere in between writing projects, I attended Oklahoma State University, received a B.A. in Technical English, and married my husband, Sam, also an OSU grad. After college, I took a job as a technical writer and continued writing and selling freelance projects on the side. Over the years, I have published various fiction and nonfiction titles, and have written more computer manuals than I can count. Fiction has always been my first love, particularly anything with a sense of history and triumph of the human spirit.
What things inspire you?
People inspire me. God inspires me. Love inspires me. Life's everyday miracles inspire me. I think most of us are stronger than we know, capable of more than we have ever imagined. I like to write about people pushing aside life's confines and roadblocks and setting the spirit free. I like to write about people forgetting the destination and enjoying the journey.
Are you working on another book now?
I am working on another novel that combines fiction with true stories and a sense of the past. The main character is very different from Kate, but is also in a rut and searching for her life's meaning. The themes are in some ways similar to Tending Roses and in some ways different. Just as no two people are the same, no two characters are the same, and no two stories the same.
Which is what makes life interesting, and fiction fun, and keeps writers writing. It's all just…sort of…potluck. You never know what's going to be in the next dish until you open it.