Late Bloomer Sky Dives Into Gardening

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Gertrude "Gertie" Cusimand says she is a late bloomer.

The winking yellow daffodils in her garden are mum on the subject.

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Gardening is in Gertie Cusimand's blood. She learned the ways of wooing the earth from her father in hard times during and after World War II in Germany.

"When I was young I was a dreamer. I never thought to come to this place. I wanted a horse to ride. I wanted to sky dive and I wanted to try scuba diving," Cusimand said.

At the tender age of 65, she plunged through the blue sky over Cave Junction, Ore. in her first tandem dive.

"I enjoyed the free fall. It was a beautiful feeling," Cusimand said.

The jerk of the parachute when it opened was not so comfortable and the first landing was funny she said.

"The instructor said, lift your feet up. We did, but a gust of wind came up and we landed on our butts."

Her son Roger and granddaughter Esther also dove.

A year ago, to celebrate her 75th birthday, she ascended again, this time, the sky above Tucson.

The dive was another tandem, however, instead of family diving with her Cusimand had friends on the ground to cheer her on.

"They said I was crazy," Cusimand said with a shrug and a laugh.

"My second jump was more fun. It is amazing, you see so much. It takes much longer to fly up than come down," she said.

Gardening has been a passion since Cusimand was a child growing up in Berlin, Germany.

"During the bad times, during and after the war, my father was always gardening. I learned it and I love it," she said.

When Gertie and her American husband Roger moved to Tucson in 1978, she was excited about making their four-acre property into a farm the whole family, including children Roger, Patra and Sabine and the grandchildren could enjoy.

Cusimand survived the culture shock, honed her English language skills watching television and reading books, and got back to gardening.

The pleasant summer climate and cold damp winters of Germany were a sharp contrast to the arid, dry climate of Tucson's desert valley and challenged her green thumb.

"In Germany, you leave your vegetables in the yard. When you need vegetables for another meal, you go outside and pick or dig them up," Cusimand said.

As well as green beans, carrots, tomatoes and other vegetable, Cusimand planted red potatoes, a necessary ingredient of German potato salad among other dishes.

She served three consecutive meals that included red potatoes.

"Then, I went to pick up the potatoes and they were boiled in the ground," she said with a hearty laugh.

A steer, goats, pigs, ducks, geese and chickens were all part of life in Tucson.

Of course, Traveler, her much-dreamed-about horse, was the most welcome addition to the farm.

Cusimand's morning ritual included checking for eggs under the chickens. Then she would add one egg to her garden vegetables and blend them into an energy drink, a practice she still maintains today.

She moved to Payson to be near one of her daughters.

Instead of four acres, Cusimand's flowers bloom in front of her doorway, where, a year-and-a-half ago there were a few trees but no flowers.

Never a woman to sit still or stay indoors for long, Cusimand made a small wheelbarrow out of a plastic box and a pushcart, bought some bulbs and went to work in yet another climate.

Pink tulips, purple iris and yellow and orange daffodils poked their heads through the lovingly tilled soil a few weeks ago. Pansies, blue and red, turn their petals to the sun.

"Gertie knows just how she wants (the flowers), so I just help," said her gardening chum and maintenance manager at Rim Country Health and Retirement Community, when he brought Cusimand a spray nozzle for the hose.

"He's the best manager ever. We work together. He reminds me of my son," Cusimand said.

Cusimand planted watermelon and cantaloupe to harvest this summer for people at the facility. When she sees a weed in the grass, she pulls it. When she sees a good corner for more flowers, she plants them.

Scuba diving is no longer on the late-blooming-dreamer's list, but if she makes 80, she plans to dive once again through the sky

"I come in at night from gardening and everything hurts, but I wake up in the morning and the sun is shining and I go back in the yard to my garden," Cusimand said.

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