In my memory, it is forever summer at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. The desert sun is always beating down as we run through the sprinkler. The Columbia River is always cold and clear. The homemade ice cream tastes like spoonsful of heaven. And there are always raspberries in the garden, deep red and begging to be picked.
Every summer when we kids visited my grandparents, we looked forward to picking raspberries with Grandpa. We could have been out playing, but we followed him to the garden, Pied Piper style, even though we knew that meant we’d be put to work.
Green baskets in hand, we’d alternate between filling our baskets and popping the sun-ripened berries into our mouths. As we made our way down the meticulous rows, Grandpa plied us with riddles and puzzles to solve.
Railroad crossing; look out for cars. Can you spell that without any r’s?
Although Grandpa spent nearly his entire career as an analytical chemist, he was truly a teacher at heart. Before being recruited by a nuclear plant at the height of the Cold War, he spent several years as a high school chemistry teacher. But he never stopped teaching. The raspberry patch became his classroom, and we were his students.
When Grandpa finished picking his rows, he’d head over to help with mine. “I got them all,” I would say confidently. He’d just smile, and then, to my utter amazement, fill several baskets’ worth of berries from the bushes I was certain were bare.
I got the news that Grandpa’s heart beat for the last time on a hot June day. The raspberries in my own garden—a weak nod to Grandpa’s legacy—were just starting to ripen.
A decade and a half ago, dementia started pulling my grandfather away from us. It began as a slow trickle at first, until eventually the current picked up and swept him away, one memory at a time.
The last time I saw him, he said, “Am I supposed to know you?” When I told him I was his granddaughter, he cocked his head and squinted at me. “No, that’s not it,” he said, as if trying to solve a riddle. “But I do think I know you.”
He gave me a hug anyway.
How do you summarize a life of 90-plus years? If I had to pin Grandpa down to a single attribute, I suppose I would say he was a study in faithfulness. He was married to the same woman for 66 years. He was a member of the same church for 61 years. He worked at the same company for 37 years. He tended the same raspberry patch for four decades. And under his meticulous care, all manner of things flourished.
In the days before his death, the thin space between heaven and earth became increasingly gauzy. Near the end, he could hardly breathe, but when my mom and her sisters said the Lord’s Prayer over him, he opened his eyes and mouthed the words right along with them.
On earth as it is in heaven . . .
Now Grandpa’s mind has been returned to him. He has been reunited with his memories. And I like to think he’s sharing his riddles with a whole new audience beyond the pearly gates.
As I teach my son to fill up his own basket of raspberries, I’m struck by the rich bounty we’ve been given. The raspberry harvest is sweet. But not as sweet as the harvest from a life faithfully lived.
What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.Frederick Buechner
Did you figure out the answer to the riddle? It’s that.