What Happens When You Get Old?

by Thomas Davis

Afraid, Grandma started talking
about the two weeping willows in her back yard.
When the wind blows they move around
and make complaining noises, she said.
She said she was waking up late at night
and hearing them moving around in the dark.

In her early seventies she still loved
gardening and growing flowers.
Her long row of red and pink peonies
beside her driveway’s black cinders,
usually covered with crawling ants,
bloomed all spring and summer.
After she and Grandpa George had built their adobe house
putting earth-bricks together by hand,
she’d planted climbing rose bushes,
creating a rose arch in front of the front door.

Later, behind the willows she’d planted
after snipping twigs off a massive tree
growing beside her favorite fishing hole
at Schweitzer Lake and sprouting white roots in a glass jar,
she started a garden with concord grape vines,
strawberries, sweet corn, sugar beets, potatoes, lettuce, green beans,
and tomatoes bigger than tomatoes ought to be.
During late fall days, before the cold came,
she spent hours, florid face red and sweating,
putting the year’s harvest in mason jars.

When she finally let the garden go
after getting a job at Goodwill downtown,
the willows started worrying her.
She complained about them as if she thought
they were angry at her the way her neighbor was.

He claimed that when she and George
had built their house in the poor part of Delta
they’d put their porch and cellar
six inches into land he purchased a decade later.

Finally, one night when she couldn’t sleep,
she went out and tried to chop the tallest willow down
with a rusty axe from the coal shed.
When she discovered she’d grown too old
to manage that in the middle of the night,
she called an old man she’d known for sixty years
and had him chop down both willows
“for firewood to feed his wood stove.”


Filed under poems, Poetry, Thomas Davis

12 responses to “What Happens When You Get Old?

  1. I’m trying to imagine the work involved in making your own house with hand made bricks, having recently made a poor job of repairing a patio here. And then the garden had to be made – and finally your grandmother went out with an axe in the night even in her seventies! She must have been a formidable woman, Tom. A true pioneer I guess. Your poem is a delightful and loving tribute to her.

    • She was a character, John. Scotch Irish, big boned, as she said, freckled, she was a force to be reckoned with. She walked away from her first husband when he sold my mother’s bed when she was a child to buy whiskey and walked, with my mother, out of Oklahoma City to her parent’s farm. Later, during the Great Depression, the two of them were forced to live in tents off and on as they followed harvests. She was wonderful to her grandsons.

  2. She is a woman after my own heart. You are so lucky to have known her

  3. A reminder of how spoilt so many of us have been and are these days.

    • We’ll see though, Ray. This is a scary time. My grandmother was tough, but I suspect we are too even if we have been spoiled for a long time. How are you my friend? We are still working on the anthology. I’m hoping to get out acceptance letters soon.

  4. What an amazing narrative poem, Tom – about an amazing lady. Enjoyed this very much. (I had grandparents in Oklahoma too!)

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