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A Life Less Ordinary


I’d been casually chatting with my father about my growing orchid obsession. He looked at me a little funny – nothing out of the ordinary there – when he dropped a bomb, “You know, your grandfather grew these orchids.”

No, no I didn’t know that. I’d remembered the greenhouses from my early childhood. Every other weekend, I recall, we’d go to a certain greenhouse or another, which is why the smell of that good green growing earth makes me nostalgic and warm inside. I remember being a toddler, spending hours at the rose garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden, listening to my family plan my future wedding there. I cannot tell you how sorry I am that I did not marry there.

My grandfather grew roses – beautiful roses – always puttering around with them, lovingly spraying them with this and that, warding off all potential pests and coaxing out the most beautiful, heavenly-scented blooms.

When I grew my own rose garden, lovingly spraying them with this and that, warding off potential pests, and coaxing out the most beautiful, heavenly-scented blooms, I’d think of him. Not at first. But eventually, I felt as though he was right there beside me, helping me identify pests and apply the proper fertilizers.

The orchids, though, they threw me through a loop. Until I found this:

That’s an orchid bloom in my curls.

My grandfather is with me always, it seems.

He is my hero.

And not just because he grew orchids and roses like I do, but because he lived the sort of live I hope to live. It was a life less ordinary.

He graduated from Johns Hopkins medical school at nineteen and became a doctor at the same age that my life hit a crossroads. I’d always planned to go to medical school myself, and life found a way. I became a mother.

He worked as the sort of family doctor that made housecalls, his forceps and stethoscope always in his medical bag, ready to deliver a baby, diagnose rubella, or treat a broken arm. It was during these housecalls that he was exposed to tuberculosis and spent many months at a TB sanatorium in the mountains, missing out on his first son’s – my father’s – early life.

Before that, though, he was a doctor in the United States Army. He was the first on the scene when the Allies liberated the concentration camps. He was the first medical personnel to treat the concentration camp victims. He never spoke of those days, what he saw, the atrocities of the Nazi’s, and what he had to do to help the survivors, although I know they weighed on him.

By the time I rolled around, he’d given up his medical practice and became the head of pathology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

The apple of his eye, his granddaughter, he spent as much time with as he could. Weekends roaming the botanical gardens. Nights at Ravinia, on the lawn, under the stars, listening to the magical strains of Saint Matthew’s Passion and The 1812 Overture, eating fried chicken on a picnic blanket. Those were the best days of my young life.

An adult with children of my own, my grandfather long-passed, I have the vain hope that one day, my life will, too, be remembered as less ordinary, if only by myself. That because of the choices I’ve made, the people I carry in my heart, the people who now (however virtually) walk by my side, the experiences I’ve put behind me, that my own life can be as far from ordinary as his.

I’d say that I miss you, Grandpa, but I know you’re always with me.

Today, tomorrow, always.

32 Comments to

“A Life Less Ordinary”

  1. On May 30th, 2011 at 11:28 am Eliza Says:

    Greetings from Orchid Land ~ Lovely post today, for Memorial Day. A tropical gal you are! Whether it be orchids or other fragrant blooming trees. So sorry to adjust your perception of that flower from childhood, yet that is a plumeria aka frangipangi bloom. Have three in my yard. All the best aloha from Maui ~

  2. On May 30th, 2011 at 11:31 am Kristin Says:

    Absolutely beautiful…and so very appropriate on Memorial Day. And, my dear, while you may be an irreverent smart ass, you are also one who has done an incredible amount of good. You started Band Back Together which has helped innumerable people. You have educated people about encephaloceles and helped a ton of people who needed support and hope when they got that devastating diagnosis. And, you’ve made a lot of us laugh on a regular basis. My dear, that IS a life less ordinary.

  3. On May 30th, 2011 at 11:34 am Katie Says:

    this is a beautiful tribute to your grandfather. And look at that…a lovely little lady right from the beginning.

  4. On May 30th, 2011 at 11:36 am Jenn Says:

    Beautiful post. My grandfather was always growing things in his greenhouse, too. The smell that you mentioned gives me the same sort of feeling. 🙂

    I think you’ll get your wish. Your life is a lot less ordinary even now. xoxo

  5. On May 30th, 2011 at 11:37 am Jenn Says:

    P.S. That photo looks so much like Amelia… you must take a photo of her with an orchid in her hair someday. 🙂

  6. On May 30th, 2011 at 11:55 am Beth Says:

    My papau passed away last June, and with my first kiddo on the way, that’s been hitting me hard. I have to say that even though this made my lame, hormonal ass cry… it’s just beautiful. And I second Jenn’s thought that you should *totally* recreate the shot with Amelia.

  7. On May 30th, 2011 at 12:11 pm Brandon Says:

    A gorgeous Memorial Day post about an amazing man. I am lucky to still have both my grandfathers, and enjoy listening to their stories from time to time.

    And you’re right. He will always be in you, as long as you always give him a place to be.

    Much Love, ~Idaho~

    Today’s Post: Memorial Day and Heroism: A Moment of Thanks

  8. On May 30th, 2011 at 12:22 pm Penbleth Says:

    A beautiful post and a lovely tribute to your grandfather.

  9. On May 30th, 2011 at 12:28 pm neena Says:

    What an incredibly sweet post!! I think I’ll go call my grandpa…

  10. On May 30th, 2011 at 12:54 pm Vinobaby Says:

    Beautiful story and very fitting for Memorial Day. You are lucky to have such lovely memories of a wonderful man. It’s amazing how so many things we do have their origins in our DNA. And yes, your were absolutely adorable, but it’s a plumeria flower behind your perky little ear. Which is actually good news, because they are easier to grow than orchids and produce a zillion fragrant blooms through the summer.

    Pick one up–I’d bet the scent will trigger some more sense memories–and if you get bored, you can make yourself a lei.


  11. On May 30th, 2011 at 1:09 pm Sue J. Says:

    Lovely, Becky. Thank you.

  12. On May 30th, 2011 at 1:17 pm Sandy Says:

    Beautiful! I feel the same way about my Mom when I work in my gardens, and know that she is always with me.

  13. On May 30th, 2011 at 1:59 pm Coco Says:

    So lovely, Becks. I think he is, indeed, always with you. And I’m sure he’s very, very proud.

  14. On May 30th, 2011 at 2:07 pm Jonah Gibson Says:

    My wife’s mother was an Army nurse during WWII. She was with the 116th Medical Evac group, and among the first to enter Dachau. I’m wondering now if she knew your grandfather.

  15. On May 30th, 2011 at 2:33 pm Nicole, the queen of this life Says:

    What a wonderful reminder of your grandfather. 🙂

  16. On May 30th, 2011 at 3:32 pm John Eadie Says:

    I love this! You haven’t sent me a picture though.

  17. On May 30th, 2011 at 3:38 pm Michelle Says:

    Um, hello, do you read what you write? You are certainly living less ordinary, one post at a time.

  18. On May 30th, 2011 at 5:36 pm katrina Says:

    God woman! you’re always pulling on my heartstrings…..this is too beautiful!

  19. On May 30th, 2011 at 6:32 pm Betty M Says:

    Excellent post and a great tribute.

  20. On May 30th, 2011 at 8:13 pm Wombat Central Says:

    Just lovely. 🙂 How wonderful it must have been for you to have him in your life, and he you…

  21. On May 30th, 2011 at 8:28 pm Heather Says:

    Wonderful post! My grand-daddy was my special person, I loved him so much and miss him still every single day.
    I’m so glad that young Aunt Becky had a special person.

  22. On May 30th, 2011 at 9:17 pm Dr. O Says:

    Just beautiful. I’ve been thinking about my grandpa today, too. I especially love the memory of him trying to lift me up above his head whenever I’d run in to see him as a little kid. He was weak from a stroke years earlier and it took him much longer than normal to pick me up, but he always insisted. I love and miss him so much.

  23. On May 31st, 2011 at 9:09 am Amy1N Says:

    Aunt Becky! You made my day with this post. Also, you should read the book “Cold Sassy Tree”. I think it would be right up your alley. Also, the whole first couple of chapters have roses in them.

  24. On May 31st, 2011 at 11:38 am Tracie Says:

    I’m crying from the beautifulness of what you have written here.

    I, too, hope to live a life that is less ordinary.

  25. On May 31st, 2011 at 8:47 pm John Says:

    He sounds like quite the character . . . I have tons of memories of my father’s father – he was my hero & friend & mentor. While I miss the fuck out of him, daily, I’m so thankful for the ability to draw back on those memories.

  26. On June 1st, 2011 at 8:21 am Sean Says:

    Such a beautiful post. That was an amazing generation. My grandparents all had lives less ordinary. It was such a rare time in history that we will never be able to have again. I’m glad your grandfather is with now and always.

  27. On June 1st, 2011 at 8:21 am Sean Says:

    Such a beautiful post. That was an amazing generation. My grandparents all had lives less ordinary. It was such a rare time in history that we will never be able to have again. I’m glad your grandfather is with now and always.

  28. On June 1st, 2011 at 10:56 am jlhpisces Says:

    Beautiful post, the love you have for your grandfather comes through loud and clear.

  29. On June 1st, 2011 at 11:32 am Molly Says:

    I love moments like those, when you are suddenly, exceedingly aware that a person’s body may not be here, but their soul and their spirit–the true THEM–is right there next to you. It is, IMHO, one of the most beautiful aspects of life.

  30. On June 1st, 2011 at 12:15 pm Sarah Says:

    What a beautiful tribute.

  31. On June 1st, 2011 at 10:07 pm Jenn Says:

    I enjoy gardening and particularly growing tomatoes. It bowled me over when I found a picture of my mom’s dad standing proudly beside his own tomato crop. He died when my mom was young and had not realized we shared this bond without ever meeting.

  32. On June 2nd, 2011 at 9:33 am Your Aunt Becky Says:

    Wild how that happens, isn’t it?

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