Monday, May 31, 2010
We Met in the Garden
We made our way up the steep stairs and into a lemony colored bedroom. The orange flowered curtains, pulled back with lime green braided yarn ties, instantly reminded me of Nana, my mother’s mother who managed to maintain her innocence throughout her entire life. I smiled and pulled the heavy chain on the vintage tulip light, the same fixtures as the house of my childhood.
I followed the seventies, orange wall-to-wall carpet into the bunkroom, which was to be my favorite room; a large attic with exposed beams and a lot of space. Wood makes me comfortable. I sat down and sunk into an unusually narrow bed and wiggled my fingers through a multi-colored afghan, crocheted by her, no doubt. Overwhelmed by the scent of a combination of pine, cedar and mothballs; I counted five mousetraps, one being so old that it might fetch a few bucks on eBay (probably not).
She died a year before but lived in a nursing home for a few years. Her sons must have made the decision to take her out of her home and just lock the doors and forget about it. Maybe the ordeal was too painful. With the exception of a few high-end antiques, they left the sifting through randomness for someone else, even if it meant complete strangers.
At first, for me – the quintessential Yankee – it was almost impossible to discard her things. Most of the stuff was in fine working order, but it was hers. I rifled through a plethora of vintage bits and pieces, such as fly swatters, cooking utensils, tools and a nifty whistle. I even apologized under my breath when tossing things into the garbage; it seemed oddly disrespectful.
When I couldn’t find my telephone, I plugged in a perfectly good phone that I found in the kitchen drawer. My sister called me on my cell phone and said that she thought it was weird that my land line number was the same as the old woman’s. I questioned her of course, and she told me to listen to my answering machine. I didn’t realize that the phone recording system was on with her voice. I thought I had the standard greeting through the telephone company.
After a few coats of paint, new curtains, my personal effects and my own voice on the answering machine, I began to feel more at home rather than a guest of an old woman I had never met. I am feeling less jumpy and apprehensive.
My bond with the old woman has just begun. In the fall, it was difficult to know what grew outside, but now that spring has arrived, it is evident that she had a profound connection with the earth, leaving her legacy through an abundance of flowers, herbs and fruit trees.
To wake up and walk through the yard every day is like being a child on Christmas morning and opening presents from a mysterious plump man in a red suit. I never know what to expect. I have a great deal of knowledge about herbs and flowers from this area, but I don’t know what she planted. It is purely delightful to stumble upon these earthly treasures. She cultivated multiple varieties of mint, lemon balm, asparagus, onions, chives, rhubarb, red and black raspberries, elderberries, grapes, an assortment of roses, globe thistle, poppies, bleeding hearts, tulips, daffodils, peonies, irises, bee balm, fox glove, hyacinth, phlox, daisies, black eyed susans, lilies, lilies of the valley, johnny jump ups, lupine, gladiolus, yarrow, lilacs, forsythia, jack in the pulpit, violets and there are many more to be discovered.
She worked diligently to grow such magnificence, using each nook and cranny wisely, including delicate purple and white flowers and irises bordering the pond. I eagerly don mosquito netting and gloves and work attentively weeding and caring for her legacy. As I witness each blossom, my bond with the old woman whom I never met is strengthened. I honor her each time I dig into the earth. I anticipate each bud, imagining what it will be before it opens.
Now I know her; we met in the garden. Her flowers and herbs live on and bring joy and beauty into my life. Bees, hummingbirds and butterflies lavish in the sweet nectar made possible by her and each heady blossom offers fresh inspiration in each stage of life and death.