January 2023

The Garden

Johnathan's piece written and shared at his grandpa Conrad Coon Larew's service

By Johnathan MC

The famous author Robert Lewis Stevenson once wrote “don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” If you were to look at the impact of my grandpa on the lives and memories of so, so many people it becomes easy to understand what a fitting quote this is, both figuratively and literally. At the risk of grandpa wanting to reach down from the heavens and give me a firm shaking though, I should probably keep the big elegant words to a minimum. You see, my grandpa was a simple man….simple in this case meaning that life for him was about a few precious things: hard work, family, laughter, orneriness, and the garden. Oh yes, that famous garden.

Grandpa’s garden was his source of pride. I’d argue there was nary a soul alive that hadn’t been, if he had had an opportunity, blessed with some type of garden care package or 2….or maybe even more over the years. The generosity was ever present. Meticulously crafted by grandpa with the occasional aid of his children, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren, assorted other family members, visitors, or even strangers if he could convince them to stay around long enough, the garden was grandpa’s most glorious achievement. Part of ol Coon Larew’s charm was that you didn’t often need much convincing to be there with him, as once there, you were happy to be so.

While younger I may not have always recognized how lucky I was to be in that garden with my grandpa. I toiled for hours under the hot summer sun at his side, however, for every begrudging moment I spent just wanting to be done with work, there were always rewards reaped from this hard work. Most times your rewards were not monetarily related, but I can still remember proudly turning on my brand new Sega Genesis video game system for the first time that was purchased with money earned from working in the garden an entire summer with grandpa. You see, he had decided since I was about to become a teenager…and with a little prompting from my biggest fan, my Granny, that this would be my very first paid job. I guess you could say this was a labor of love, but my boss definitely kept it very interesting.

While there was that instance of financial reward, more often the biggest reward of working in the garden was the delicious and comforting home cooked meals crafted by Granny made from items grown in that garden. These meals, and these experiences filled you up. So for every scar inducing sunburn, every cut, nick, and bruise acquired while being grandpa’s helper, there was a priceless opportunity to learn….and to soak up that ornery spirit that I now personally embody oh so much. There was magic in those moments…..in those memories, even if it took growing up to truly appreciate them. Grandpa helped with that growth.

Calling back upon that quote to “not judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant,” something else became clear to me. I recognized that the garden full of vegetables and fruits (yes, cucumbers and tomatoes are fruits)…..that garden that grandpa spent so much of his life in……was not his only garden. In fact, this quote acts as a bigger analogy for life. You need look no further for proof of that, than to the large and loving family that he produced with my Granny. This family, it was also his garden. Many of us that stand here today are the products of this bounty. 4 children, 10 grandkids, 12 great grandkids. I’d argue that there were strong roots, and that the soil in this garden was rich.

As we all grew and were influenced by our grandpa in so many ways, we got to appreciate his many different quirks and nuances. We got to marvel at his storytelling ability, his card playing finesse, his adventurous nature when finding or making a trail where one didn’t previously exist, and in his ways of rigging items together in often humorous ways to fit a need he had……or at least perceived that he did. Of course, the overarching thread of grandpa’s orneriness ran rampant in all of these activities, but you see, that was a part of him that we loved as both children and teenagers, and even continued to smirk at still at times, as less tolerating adults. For every time I found myself frustrated when he sang a little too much or when he was ornery in the most inappropriate of public places, I quickly reminded myself of how much I would miss these precious moments when they were no longer available. As I learned with Granny just a few years back, in a situation all too familiar, time is fleeting. I wanted to cling to every moment I could.

Writing this, I was reminded of another famous quote analogous to my grandpa’s favorite occupation. “To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul,” by the poet Alfred Austin. And just as I wanted to soak up all of the moments up that I had with grandpa, I wanted to enjoy how they filled my soul, just as vegetables from the garden had filled all of our stomachs as we grew, and thrived, and loved together… as family.

Despite the fact that we are gathered here to say goodbye, and that as I drove down my favorite country roads recently knowing that this was soon be a wave goodbye, and despite the fact that as I stood at grandpa’s untended garden which was once so vibrant, knowing that it was never to rise again with life provided by his hard working and talented hands; Despite all of those things, I have made a decision to refuse….and encourage you to refuse….. to wither from sadness. I ask instead that you reflect upon the times that he made you laugh, those where he shared with you a great story, or maybe even got you into some sort of mischief, as we all know he was so good at that. Whether these times were on ‘the Creek’, in a garden, or were ones related to the old gold and blue, the flying WV, the almost heaven mentality of a Mountaineer experience, think upon all of the times you had with him fondly. Let your experiences with him uplift you. Think of how you were nurtured by his smile, his kindness, his fruits and vegetables, and by the other garden that still remains… the one that is his family. The sun will still shine. The soil will still remain fertile. And as long as family, and memories remain, grandpa’s garden will never, ever, truly perish.