One of the warmest memories of childhood in the small Indiana village where we lived is that of carrying a ball jar full of freshly picked flowers and walking with my grandmother to someone’s home for a visit.

With a population of 88, our little hamlet offered plenty of opportunities for late afternoon chats over a glass of iced tea as we sat on someone’s porch swing and listened to the refreshing sounds of spring and summer evenings. Almost inevitably, such visits would be accompanied with some type of home grown, or homespun gift representing community family friendship.

In many ways, that’s why my grandmother and parents grew flowers and a large spreading truck patch (at least that’s the way it seemed back then). From the early daffodils we commonly referred to as, “Easter flowers,” to emerging hyacinths, irises, and peonies, neighbors, especially the elderly, in “our town” liked to dress in their aprons and bonnets and fetch flowers to share with others around them.

One of the most sacred times of assembling bouquets occurred just prior to Memorial Day when our family would form an assembly line of placing fresh cut flowers in ball jars partially filled with water. Then, we would place the jars in boxes and head to the cemeteries to decorate the graves of loved ones, friends, and those who had served our country.

Sometimes distribution of graveyard flowers would take the better part of a morning, many times because there would be times to stop and visit with others who were doing the same thing. Quite often, that event would be accompanied by the first major cookout of summer.

As the truck patch came along, and trees in the orchard began to grow fruit, new opportunities for sharing the love in our family would emerge. Sometimes we would barter and trade fruit and vegetables with neighbors. We would exchange cucumbers and melons for a couple of armloads of sweet corn or beats for lima beans.

Quite often, it seemed like the entire village was a garden and each family cared for various parts of that garden. Occasionally, neighbors or family members would go from house to house to help with each other’s food processing. Monday would feature canning green beans and corn one place while the next day, the same processing would occur next door.

Of course, when efforts like that were undertaken, it often meant sharing such goodies as fresh-baked cookies, bread, muffins, or pie. One of my favorites would be leftover cinnamon and brown sugar baked on leftover pie doe.

One of the most poignant memories of those days, in addition to the love and warmth that was passed on, was the tremendous aroma of springtime hope. There are still times when thoughts of the fresh smell of crabapple blooms, cherry blossoms, pear blossoms, and spring flowers blend into a melody of hope in my mind like no other.

Nothing erases the aches and pains of a brutal winter and raw winds like nature’s own scents and beauty. These days, certain flowers are reminders of certain people, mainly the individuals who liked certain kinds of flowers.

My grandmother loved hyacinths in the spring and zinnias in the summer; my mother liked lilacs in the spring and marigolds and snapdragons. My wife, Joyce, loves wildflowers picked in the woods while a close friend, Marybeth, in Wapakoneta, is inspired by sunflowers.

Flowers, vegetables, and most of all, friendship and family members, are all gifts beyond price or measure, far more than rubies or gold, wrote a very wise man years ago.

I can remember an evening several years ago when a number of things seemed to accumulate. I was a bit downhearted and as I reflected on some of the older memories, I found myself saying to myself, “I wish.”

Incredibly, I went over to my desk to work on some writing and there, in the middle of the desk, was a letter my grandmother had written to me in college. Twenty years had passed since the writing of that letter.

I opened and began to read, “Your mom and dad are in the back yard picking apples. The neighbors are coming over to get some later and we’re all going to make some apple sauce.”

Tears of joy and heart moments ran down my face; to this day, I don’t know how that letter ever got there, but it turned out to be one of the most precious gifts I ever received, just at the right time, a gift straight from the earth to my heart.