Musical Memoir - The Rose
”I say love, it is a flower
And you, its only seed.”
My maternal grandfather was a never-ending dichotomy. As a young child, I knew him to be deeply loving in one moment and deeply distant the next. Having struggled with alcoholism his whole adult life, the chemicals never seemed to balance even after he bravely stepped forward for support by joining Alcoholic’s Anonymous. I use the word brave because life has taught me we are all susceptible to addiction and escaping it takes incredible strength. If you are currently struggling with addiction please know you are not alone. We are all more alike than we are different and only the brave, resilient, and strong acknowledge they need help. My grandfather was all of the latter.
Growing up in the small town of Havelock my grandfather (Jack Liberty) moved to Toronto after successfully wooing my grandmother (Velma McMullen) to marry him. He had attempted to enlist in the war effort but was denied because of a heart murmur. They settled in a humble semi-detached home at Danforth and Greenwood in Toronto and with his charismatic personality, he landed work in sales. He and my grandmother had two children - my Uncle Bobby (Robert Liberty) and my mom (Linda Liberty). Their life under the rule of a struggling addict was difficult. Their story belongs to them and is not mine to tell. I do know that through struggle comes strength and both my uncle and my mother triumphed through deep heartache and a love that moulded them both to be the incredible people they are today.
Growing up close to my “city nana and grandpa” ... (yes I had a “city nana and grandpa” and a “farm nana and grandpa“) I saw them often. Mid-week dinners and weekend overnights at the humble semi-detached were frequent. I loved my time there. The front porch where we would sit in rocking chairs to wait on the ice-cream man for hours, the concrete slab driveway that was forever infested with clover and weeds, and the quaint backyard filled with roses and peonies was a place of peace and simplicity. In hindsight, my affection for it likely aligns with the comfort provided by a place where time seemed to stand still. A place where nothing ever changed. The wallpaper, furniture, paint colour all remained consistent throughout my lifetime and in a world that is constantly changing this stable refuge was refreshing.
My grandmother was a constant source of love and adoration who welcomed me with open arms. She didn't change her plans, create grandiose events or attempt to make the visit exciting. Rather she invited me to join her in her daily routine. We walked to the grocery store, took daily naps, prepped for dinner, set a beautiful table, washed dishes, watched a little tele (typically Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk), and always ended the night with a warm bath and clean pajamas. On special occasions we would take the streetcar to Gerrard Square to window shop at Simpson's and have lunch in the cafeteria. To this day the components of my Nana’s daily routine are the things that bring me the greatest joy. The only inconsistent measure of her day was my grandfather‘s presence. On the days he was home, I watched as she nurtured and cared for him with a servant's heart and offered me out to help with whatever chores he was committed to that day - often those chores included weeding and gardening.
My grandfather loved his garden and his many rose bushes were his pride and joy. He taught me how to plant them, prune them, nurture them and winter them. He even taught me that dog poop is a great fertilizer. Walks out to the garden were a slow methodical practice turning over every leaf as we looked for aphids, pruned back any damaged stems, and gently removed any leaves damaged by blackspot. We watered them at the base to avoid creating damp leaves and gently covered them with a powder designed to deter pests. His love for his roses was one of the first times I witnessed the expression of practical love. Caring for his roses to ensure they reached optimum bloom took a lot of time, hard work, and dedication. He loved each one as though it was different from the others. One needed more mulch another harsh pruning. Over time, research, and likely some failed attempts, it was as if he understood their unique needs. At a very young age, I learned what it meant to love things in the way they needed to be loved. Love was not about what one person was willing to give, it was a crossroads where there were no expectations, no one size fits all, just a beautiful blend of taking time to learn and understand each person's unique needs while investing time, hard work and dedication. This equation continues to lead to the optimal blooming of roses and is the foundation of what I have come to learn is the true essence of lasting love.
Eager to educate me on the name of each species and its unique characteristics my grandfather taught me well. My love for flowers comes from a man who like the roses he cared for was unique. The thorns of his life were born out of addiction and sadly I suspect it robbed him of optimal blooming. The man that I knew and loved was brave, resilient, and strong just like the beautiful flowers he tended to. His legacy lives in his two children, two grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. It lives in my love for flowers and gardening and I suspect he would be proud as punch to know I can identify most if not all weeds and invasive plants by name. This weekend I planted five different varieties of roses one for each great-grandchild and three peonies to balance them in what I have lovingly called Jack's garden. As I invest time, hard work and dedication in hopes of producing optimal blooms I will move slowly and methodically as I seek to understand each shrubs unique needs. I will giggle as my spade mulches dog poop into the soil to feed each shrub and I will smile with gratitude that I was privileged to be loved by a man who shared his passion of gardening with me. It is a gift I will forever be grateful for.
Photo: Jacks Garden, Rosa Queen Elizabeth Grandiflora, Rosa Just Joey Hybrid Tea, Rosa Honour Hybrid Tea, Rosa Peggy Rockefeller Hybrid Tea, Rosa Honey Dijon Grandiflora