Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Play: Their mother's gardens

"I notice that it is only when my mother is working in her flowers that she is radiant, almost to the point of being invisible except as Creator: hand and eye. She is involved in work her soul must have. Ordering the universe in the image of her personal conception of Beauty.

Her face, as she prepares the Art that is her gift, is a legacy of respect she leaves to me, for all that illuminates and cherishes life. She had handed down respect for the possibilities - and the will to grasp them."

When I read that essay as a senior in college, I found the subject matter as tedious as the microscopic type and tissue-thin pages of the Norton Anthology in which it appeared.  Sure, I was all for women expressing their creativity, especially oppressed minorities, but gardening, to my mind, fell strictly in the realm of ladies like my grandmother and was thus irrelevant to young, vital, important me. 

When I was young, my grandmother grew lush flower gardens that lined her driveway.  She spent many hours teaching me the names of her plants and hoped that they would someday be useful.  When I was in high school an applying to college she would wistfully suggest that after spending all those early years learning the difference between a pansy and a petunia I might want to become a florist.  I nodded politely, but not encouragingly, at the suggestion which seemed at the time an incredibly frivolous way to spend a life.

Years later, when I was just starting out in teaching at a school where most of my colleagues were on the opposite end of their careers, I used to spend my lunch break listening to the older ladies talking about weeding dahlias and pruning roses. One of them explained to me that though her rose bushes were a lot of work, she thought they were an important tool in demonstrating to her children, high school age at the time, the beauty of nature.  Back then, this struck me as unnecessary.  Everyone knows what a rose looks like, how is seeing one in the front yard going to be any different from seeing one wrapped in cellophane and tossed in a bucket at the supermarket?   

You know where this is going.  With becoming a mother and a homeowner, I have also become a gardener.  My beds are nothing compared to my grandmother's and I've never pruned a rose bush.  I am certainly not a radiant gardener like Walker's mother, but then nor do people come from miles around to admire my work as they did hers.  Really, I'm still not great at planning out a garden, often realizing after a thing takes root that a may not have picked the best spot for it.  Also, dirt grosses me out and worms occasionally make me gag. 

Still, I feel compelled to open up the earth and embellish it with a living thing that I will then nourish and nurture and endeavor to help in fulfilling its promise to be beautiful.  And though I doubt that they'll grow up to be florists or landscape architects, I want my girls to be a part of that. 

I'll likely never be able to teach them what a dahlia is as I have no idea myself, but there are some more important things I hope I might pass on:

You may never own a home with an indoor pool like that classmate whose birthday party Big E attended a while back, but you can always plant a few of those rose bushes that grow on the dunes and imagine yourself beachside.

Though last night's dinner came from a takeout menu, that needn't be your only source.

A little dirt never hurt anybody. . . but you really must wash up before dinner.

And, most important of all, even when you have no confidence in your ability to propagate a lawn, throw out some seed and you just might end up with a lush, verdant patch of loveliness like I did.

No comments:

Post a Comment