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Grindstaff honors aunt with home, gardens
Annette Grindstaff, standing, and her mother, Rivers Smith, relax in one of the many gardens of their Collinsville home. (Bulletin photo by Holly Kozelsky)
Sunday, July 8, 2012
By HOLLY KOZELSKY - Bulletin Accent Editor
Annette Grindstaff’s manicured yard is more than just a collection of fresh, colorful gardens. It is a loving tribute to her husband’s aunt, the late Mildred Edwards.
Edwards, who died in April 2011, lived for many years in that house in Collinsville, which the late Bill Grindstaff, Annette’s husband, built. Edwards was the postmistress in Stanleytown for many years, and a volunteer for 10 years at The Oliver and Mildred Evans Adult Day Care Center of Martinsville and Henry County, which was named for her and her husband.
Bill and Annette Grindstaff were living on Wingfield Orchard Road, where Annette Grindstaff’s mother lived nearby. Bill Grindstaff was a contractor, and Annette Grindstaff worked at Pillowtex until it closed, she said.
Meanwhile, Oliver Edwards started having some troubles getting around in the couple’s house as he was aging. Right next door, her nephew built the Edwards a house with a more convenient layout, wider doorways and other features to make it easier for him to get around. The Edwards moved there in 1991, and Oliver Edwards died the next year.
The Edwards’ only son, Ray Edwards, lived in High Point, N.C. Bill Grindstaff was devoted to looking after his aunt, Grindstaff said. “He was there for her all the way,” even at night when she was ill.
When she was 85, she went to live at King’s Grant, where she remained until her death in 2011. When Edwards left the house, she proposed that the Grindstaffs buy it for $70,000, which was low for its value. The Grindstaffs sold their home and moved to Edwards’ house in 2003.
Sadly, Bill Grindstaff died shortly after the couple began living there. During a visitation before the funeral, Mildred Edwards, accompanied by her son, pulled the widow aside to tell her she had cancelled the debt and was giving Grindstaff the house free and clear.
Grindstaff felt disbelief and gratitude at the gesture. It was “more than a dream came true,” she said.
“They just gave it to me,” she added, her eyes glistening with tears. “It’s all in my name.”
That’s why she sees the house and it yard as a tribute to Edwards. The house is kept immaculately clean and tidy. The manicured yard features gardens throughout. In fact, the condition of the yard won Grindstaff the Gateway Streetscape Curb Appeal Award in 2008.
“I have so much love and pride, I just want to take care of it,” she said. “As long as I live, I’m going to do my best,” she said. “I am not ashamed to say I did not pay for this house.”
The centerpiece of the yard is a garden bed with a bubbling birdbath fountain. The fountain was a 2010 Mother’s Day gift from her children, Shannon Bowling, Robin Garrett, Amy Clark and Marty Grindstaff. She has nine grandchildren. Her son-in-law, Marty Garrett, dug the bed and installed the fountain.
The fountain’s bed is covered in brick chips. A big, lush flowering pot of Million Bells anchors each side. Whimsical statues are placed here and there, and small pots holding Creeping Jenny and Hens and Chicks are dug in throughout the brick.
Grindstaff painted the statues using acrylic craft paint, which has stood up to the weather.
A vegetable garden thrives in a long, narrow space between Grindstaff’s and her neighbor’s yard. The area previously was a rose bed. Last year, Grindstaff grew tomatoes there — until a motorcyclist skidded right through them, destroying them.
“I got 5 gallons of green tomatoes” from those broken vines, she said. The stakes and cages were so tall “it’s a wonder (running into) that hadn’t killed him.”
The vegetable garden is the project of Grindstaff’s mother, Rivers Smith.
“Oh, I feel bad” when the traffic passes and people see her 88-year-old mother working in the vegetable patch, Grindstaff said. “People probably say I’m doing bad for Mama, but it’s her passion to do what she’s done all her life:” garden.
The vegetable garden is a long, thick row of beans capped at one end by squash vines and at the other by cucumbers. “I never envisioned you’d get that much in this space,” Grindstaff said.
“That’s what she loves to do, and I let her do it,” she added.
Smith was raised on Lover’s Leap Mountain. Her childhood home could be seen from the Lover’s Leap lookout. Her mother and brothers built the rock wall at the lookout, she said.
Being raised on a farm, “we had to hoe corn and all that stuff,” Smith said. “I’ve always lived in the country.”
Smith also tends a shaded corner garden which has a chair flanked on each side by long cement planters with lush impatiens, and an array of potted plants that adorn the deck which runs along the back and one side of the house.
The women’s love of nature and gardening continues on into the house, where large, lush philodendron and other house plants grow up stakes and hang down from planters. In the bay window sits a commanding Christmas cactus. A family treasure, it had belonged to Mildred Edwards’ mother.
The fireplace holds a surprise — not firewood, but another fountain. It gives the living room a refreshing feeling in summer, and it gives the flavor of summer in winter.
“I got my talent if I have any from Mama,” Grindstaff said.