StarChild Science—When asked, What was her inspiration for the Hear the Call Poster, Judy Wilken answered: When I was a small girl my grandfather would hoist me up onto his shoulders on warm summer mornings and take me down the “back alley”, as he called it, to the post office to get his mail. On the way down the alley he would ask me to tell him everything I saw in each of the neighbor’s backyard garden. What I saw several decades ago has always been with me. My grandfather was a railroad engineer in Saskatchewan, Canada in the 1930’s through the1960’s. His most enjoyable runs were when he delivered the spring wheat harvest across the country every fall in his steam engine. All the farmers knew him. He was their extended arm, pouring grain into their silos every September without a lick; he was on time, on track. They could depend on him. They used to call him ‘chief’ when he stepped down out of his steam engine. When he wasn’t in his steam engine he would be at home surrounding himself with children. He enjoyed being with children. Children from the neighborhood would knock on his door when they knew he was home and beg him to come outside and swing them on the tire swing he made for his own children in his front yard. That swing lasted long enough for his great grandchildren to swing on it.
I remember the “back alley” walks as if they happened just yesterday. They began the same way all summer long. Grandpa would walk through his own garden, past his blueberry bushes, rows of corn, turnips, radishes; green beans winding up pole after pole; onions and carrots. He would open his back gate with me on his shoulders, turn to the right revealing the “back alley” bare and straight, dirt in chunks, no ditches, and already steaming hot. It was bordered with fences, each one was high and colored white like clouds. The alley had great proportions for a five year old; it was wider than Main Street and prairie-flat. From Grandpa’s shoulders I could easily see fresh green vine leaves spreading down the alley side of the fences; large traffic-light yellow sunflowers lopped over some of their tops. I always looked to the very end of the alley at the beginning of our walks because I thought that when we got to where it was small and narrow that meant I would be this close to licking a cold ice cream cone at the Creamery after Grandpa got his mail.
As soon as we entered the “back alley” it was easy to see the air was trafficked by more life than just me and Grandpa: Bees, dragonflies, butterflies and red-throated Anna hummers crossed the alley ahead of us constantly. The bees must have claimed the air first because there were so many of them. They buzzed back and forth, from one side of the alley to the other side while snow white cabbage moths fluttered softly past my head. When grandpa decided to rest, he would lean against a fence and ask me to tell him everything I saw in a neighbor’s garden. “Don’t tell me how many things you see. Tell me what you see,” he would say. “Well,” I would begin, “Mrs. Dunsmore’s potatoes are pushing right up out of the dirt already.” I told him as I looked down into her garden. “And her leeks are tall and straight. They look like green pencils. There’s a whole bunch of them.” Oftentimes I would watch a few of Mrs. Dunsmore’s grandchildren run in and out of the rows of leeks while singing something about ‘leekie’. That’s when Grandpa would begin laughing so hard he had to bend over to catch his breath. “The leeks are for her cock-a-leekie soup,” he managed to tell me as he straightened up. “Mrs. Dunsmore is Scottish you know.” Mrs. Dunsmore planted her leeks and carrots at the base of her backporch steps where it was easy to pull out a handful when she needed them. Her onions were surrounded by yellow crocus flowers just beyond the steps and Prairie Lilies bordered the foundation of the entire back of her house every summer making the bell peppers and amaranth seem small in comparison. Climbing rose bushes laced her kitchen windows while butterflies walked straight into their pink blossoms, as Grandpa said, “as if they owned the joint.” I couldn’t leave her garden without reaching into it with my nose and inhaling deeply. One morning I told her her garden was the best thing I had ever smelled. “That’s because all the butterflies are like flying flowers,” she told me. When our “back alley” walks started early in the morning, it wasn’t uncommon to see a few of her grandchildren leaning into her strawberry patch in their pajamas, tossing each strawberry into their mouths like they were eating red candy.