I live in a city that is considered to be in the foothills of The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. You can enjoy it year round. In the winter you can ski, in spring there are the flowers and trees in bloom, in summer you can picnic by a cool mountain spring and in the fall the changing leaves set the mountainsides ablaze with color. But my favorite times are spring and fall. They hold special childhood memories.
From the time I was five until I was twelve we would have a special guest each spring and fall. My great grandfather, my father's grandfather, would come and stay with us for two weeks. Everyone called him Papa. He was in his eighties at the time. He loved the mountains.
His favorite place to be was out back, in a lawn chair under the carport. He would sit out there and smoke and tell us stories. Sometimes he would reach in his pocket and pull out dimes to give to my brother and sister and me. I would keep mine in a special little bag. I don't think I ever spent one of them on candy, which was his intention. Seems like every one I remember him giving me was a mercury dime. Very special.
A couple of times during his stay my father would drive my brother and Papa and me to the Smokies. In the spring we would find a spot by a creek and Papa could always tell us what every plant was. My collection of smooth, slick river rocks grew. In the fall we would make the drive up the mountain called Clingman's Dome in order to enjoy the autumn foliage. Breathtaking.
Instead of a green thumb, my Papa must have had a green arm. He could look at a plant crooked and it would grow. Each year in the fall he would trim the forsythia bushes back to the point where us kids were always sure he had killed them. And each year in the spring the bushes would be back even bigger than the year before. He would plant bulbs in the fall. Then, each spring we would be surprised at the spots he had picked for the new tulips. We would search for the tiny green shoots and exclaim, "Oh! Papa must've put some here!" And here, and here.
One spring all the kids were riding their bikes when my friend Marti hit a rock and went flying over her handlebars. She landed right on her face and knocked out her two front teeth on top. In the hubbub that ensued I recall seeing my Papa calmly get her bike out of the road. The front tire had been wrenched sideways. He walked it up the drive to my house. After Marti had been picked up by her mom (she lived just up the street) I went to get her bike to walk it to her house. Papa had fixed it. I remember him telling me that he had reckoned that she would want it when she got to feeling better. Her mom later called to thank him for that. He was a very kind, considerate man.
Papa had not been sick a day in his life when he died in 1976 of kidney failure. He had a heart attack and went into the hospital and even though his heart got better his ninety year old body did not.
But he was still with us for many years to come. Each year, in the spring, we would look for the green shoots that meant that Papa was there. And I swear that those tulips would grow where they had not the year before.