The Gooseberry Legacy

A Heartfelt Journey of Growth, Memories, and Shared Harvests

“What kind of bush is that?” my husband asked as I transplanted my gooseberry bush into one of our garden beds at our new house. I bought it through a mail order catalog while we lived in our old house. I knew we wouldn’t stay living there forever, and it was important to me that my gooseberry bush went with me when we moved. I nursed my gooseberry bush in a pot for two years until our new house was finished being built.

“It’s a gooseberry bush,” I answered, shocked that he had never eaten gooseberries. “Growing up, my grandmother always had gooseberry bushes. It’s one of my favorite memories of her. So I wanted to plant a gooseberry bush in her memory. And I was very lucky to find one. They are very unusual and known as an old-time garden plant.”

My husband picked one of the plump berries and put it in his mouth. “Yuck!” he exclaimed, spitting remnants of the berry’s shell into the backyard. “I respect that the bush reminds you of your grandmother, but jeez, gooseberries taste awful! I can see why no one grows them anymore.”

I planted my gooseberry bush in our heavy clay and limestone soil on the shady side of our house where it got sun maybe four hours a day. My husband shook his head. “It will never grow there.”

“Of course it will. It was planted in the memory of someone. Everyone knows that plants that are planted in the heartfelt memory of someone ALWAYS grow. No matter what.”

Five years later, my gooseberry bush that yielded only a cup of berries that first summer when my husband doubted its ability to endure such harsh growing conditions, yielded a record 10 pounds of berries. My husband went from shaking his head doubting it would grow to shaking his head and saying, “When are you going to trim that thing?” his mouth full of gooseberry pie.

And since it has flourished, my gooseberry bush has become a legend in my family. Last year during my gooseberry bush’s peak ripening, my aunt visited, and walking past my prized bush she said, “This must be your gooseberry bush that your dad tells me about all the time. It’s so big! I’ve never seen one this big! Do you think that at the end of the season I could have a cutting? You know grandma always had a gooseberry bush when we were kids. Every time I see one I am reminded of her.”

“Me too,” I said as a bittersweet smile crossed my face.

My aunt sat down beside my gooseberry bush and picked one of its purple berries. She rolled it around between her fingers and said, “I’d like to have one, but I can’t find a nursery that keeps them in stock.” So last fall at the end of yet another successful growing season, I gave her a cutting from my gooseberry bush. This past spring, her gooseberry bush grew almost one foot and holds the promise of a few berries next year. As we strolled through her garden only a few weeks ago, we stopped in front of her gooseberry bush. “I’m not sure how it took off in such bad soil,” she said as she admired her bush in disbelief.

“I really think it’s flourished because it was planted with love in remembrance of grandma,” I said.

Every year around the time our gooseberries are about to ripen, my dad visits my house and walks around the side of my house and sits beside my gooseberry bush admiring the hundreds of pale green berries that adorn its thorny branches. But this year was a bit different. Perhaps a bittersweet memory had touched his mind. I caught my dad sitting on the rock wall staring at my gooseberry bush that had bloomed gloriously and was getting ready to yield those ten pounds of berries. He had tears in his eyes. I sat down beside him. He looked at me and told me that he really missed his mom and dad, my grandparents, since they had passed. He told me that sitting and admiring the way my gooseberry bush had flourished in our poor soil reminded him of a story that my grandmother once told him that he will never forget.

When he was about five years old he was harvesting gooseberries with my grandmother. He was complaining at how the thorns of the gooseberry bush pricked his fingers and made them bleed. My grandmother stopped her picking, put down her basket and sat my dad on her lap. She said, “William, do you know why I have always kept a gooseberry bush in our garden?” He looked up at her with the curious eyes of a five-year-old and replied, “No.”

“William, a long time ago when I was a little girl growing up in Ireland times were hard and many people were poor. And although my father worked hard we were poorer than most. Food was scarce, especially fresh fruits and many vegetables. You see, William even though we could have grown our own food the soil in Ireland is so poor that there is a century’s old joke throughout the countryside that gooseberries are the only fruit that thrives in Ireland. Your grandfather and many other folks chose to keep gooseberry bushes. For gooseberries thrive in the poorest soil without much sun. My father, your grandfather, always said that gooseberries were God’s gift to Ireland. He noted that if we wouldn’t have had gooseberries we would have starved many times. And William, that is why I always keep at least one gooseberry bush in my garden. It humbles me and reminds me of the old days of Ireland and the lean years when potato blight took over the countryside. I know that I can count on my gooseberry bush to yield a crop every year. And of course, my gooseberry bush reminds me of your grandfather.

From that day on, my dad never complained about picking gooseberries again and eventually when he grew up and started a family of his own he planted a few gooseberry bushes in his gardens over the years; all from cuttings from my grandmother’s bushes. Sadly she is gone now and so are her bushes. However; I can’t help but think she has a hand every year in growing my gooseberry bush bigger and fuller than the year before. And the memory of my grandmother indeed lives on in yearly cuttings that I take from my bush and give to my family members. Not only does her memory live on but she will never have to worry about any of us going hungry.

About the Author: Besides writing, Denise Calaman paints and keeps a sketch book with her at all times. She loves animals, the outdoors, gardening and swimming.


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