Could I have inherited my love of gardening from my paternal grandmother? Helen Blanche Hogue Youngblood, 1881 – 1964, was my father’s mother and lived with us until she died when I was 15 years old. She loved to garden so we always had beautiful flowers in our yard.
Grandma, as we called her, was always a bit distant but kind to me as a child. However, she had a reputation of being a no-nonsense woman. She ruled the roost, and always had for her own four children and her husband, Edwin Spear Youngblood. She was German and Scottish in ancestry, the daughter of Robert Fulton Youngblood, 1850, who fought in the Civil War. After the war her family moved to the South from Pennsylvania. Settling in Petersburg, Virginia, they were known as carpetbaggers, and her family of six children was generally rejected by the community. There is a story passed down in the family that says when they would attend church at the Methodist church in Petersburg, people near them would rise and move to the other side of the church! Emotions ran high towards “yankees” in the South after the Civil War. Helen’s father and husband were farmers, but she and her husband lost their farm when the Great Depression hit the United States. By that time, Grandma had four grown children, and her two sons built a house for them in Richmond Virginia. My father Cecil, bought out his brother Fulton’s half of the house after he was married, Dad’s father had died, and he decided to raise his own family of four children in the house he had helped buy for his mother and father. I spent the first 22 years of my life living in that lovely stone house.
Every spring and every fall,Grandma had a ritual. She had about 50 plants in pots that she kept in her large bedroom and walk-in closet upstairs in the stone house. Every spring we would form a line and carry every pot outside! The pots had to be lined up exactly right along the edge of the stone front porch. Every fall it was back again—up the stairs onto the tables and garden display racks. This ritual marked the beginning and end of our summers as clearly as Memorial Day and Labor Day.
I remember the joy also, the joy of having a huge garden full of daffodils in the spring that we were free to pick and carry to our teachers, neighbors, and whoever we chose. I loved doing that. We always had snowball bushes, and grandma told us that when the snowballs fell off the bushes in May, we could begin to go barefooted outside. I can remember clearly shaking those bushes vigorously along with my brother in hopes that the snowballs would fall to the ground and we could run around outside without our shoes.
Along our back walkway grew Lily of the Valley. They smelled so sweet as you walked from the driveway to the entrance. When I was about 10 years old, my grandmother was President of the local garden club and they held a contest for children to create and enter a dish garden. I remember Grandma and myself working together to design a dish garden that illustrated the song, “White Coral Bells”. I remember planting the Lily of the Valley in my dish garden along with little pebbles for the walkway which illustrated the song perfectly. Amazingly, in researching newspaper archives for my genealogical research, I came across a newspaper article about my winning a blue ribbon for that entry. What a surprise!
There is so much more I’d like to tell you about this complex woman. Her mother Helen Voelkler was the daughter of German immigrants. They were a musically talented family, with my second great-grandfather Gustavus Voelkler born 1834 in Altenburg, Saxony. Gustavus owned his own music school and was principal of the music department at Dickenson Seminary in Williamsport, Pennsylvania
Her father Robert Fulton Hogue, however, was Scottish. If he was anything like his son, my great-uncle Robert Clay Hogue, he was quiet, contemplative, and intense. There was abuse in the family and my own grandmother Helen had a history of being abusive to some people. Where did that come from? Who had the uncontrolled temper? The German Voelklers, Youngbloods, or the Scottish Hogue’s?
My mother always worked outside of the home as did my dad. Therefore Grandma was in charge of our family life when I was a child. I remember that we went outdoors to play in the morning and were required to be home in time for dinner at 6:00 pm. We always had dinner around the dining room table at 6 pm, you were not allowed to be tardy for fear of corporal punishment. My job was to set the table for the seven of us-Mom, Dad, four children and grandmother. After dinner, my sister and I washed and put away the dishes. We did this everyday, day in and day out for many years. My sister had a repetitive dream that she was 113 years old, I was 107, and we lived together, and were doing dishes together still! (It makes me laugh.) She always washed and I always dried and put things away. The boys of course were required to do “boy’s work” like mow the grass, empty the trash, and work on the car if need be. With four children in the house, however, there was always fun to be had no matter what else was going on.
Grandmother had a keen sense of smell. She was almost deaf, and nearsighted. But we all knew she could smell trouble. Since our parents left early for work, we children would catch the school bus and go to school on our own. I remember one day, when my little brother was in nursery school still, and my older sister was off in high school, but Cecil and I went to the same elementary school. That morning we missed the school bus because we were late getting out to the stop. Instead of walking to school as we could have and should have, we decided to play hooky. Instead of staying outside and playing all day somewhere away from the house, for some reason we sneaked back into the house and hid in our parents’ closet. At lunchtime, after Grandma went upstairs for a nap, we sneaked out to get something to eat. Not thinking about grandma’s keen sense of smell, we cooked some Campbell’s soup! Not only that but we carried our bowls of soup into the closet along with our crackers and drinks. Our parents would have killed us if they had known!. We cleaned up the kitchen but just as we were slipping back into the closet with our soup, down the stairs came grandma! We could hear her searching from room to room as she muttered under her breath, “ I know I smelled something, there was something cooking, what could it possibly have been? It smells like something’s burning.” She was looking behind every chair and curtain . We froze in the closet –sure of imminent discovery. Amazingly grandma did not find us that day. We were very lucky and we knew it. My brother and I agreed that our skipping school days were over, and that it was easier just to go to school! I can only laugh when I remember the trauma/drama of that day.
Today I love my flowers. In the spring and summer I rush outside every morning anticipating what new bloom I might see! I usually have my camera with me. But it’s also interesting, that while I am quite nearsighted, and slightly hard of hearing, I also have a keen sense of smell. Could I truly have inherited a love of flowers and a strong sense of smell from my grandmother? Better to enjoy the magnolias, the gardenia, and the Lily of the Valley, say I! Thank heavens I do not have an anger issue and have never been abusive. I do believe we have broken that cycle. The issues of dna, and nature versus nurture are interesting ones, but I already know, as I explore my own gardens, that I inherited this interest from my paternal grandmother. It is a gift I appreciate greatly.