Today’s post won’t be about one of my crazy dreams. It’s really just about the dream I enter into when I sink down into the dirt of Uncle Bob’s garden. It feels like sacred ground. It’s hard to write about; a waterfall of emotions and feelings come pouring out of my heart and I am lost. Where am I? Where am I going? Where do I belong?
I hope I’m not being overly dramatic, but it reminds of the scene in “Gone with the Wind” when Scarlett tells Rhett about her recurrent nightmare:
“Oh, Rhett, I was so cold and so hungry and so tired and I couldn’t find it. I ran through the mist and I ran but I couldn’t find it.”
“Find what, honey?”
“I don’t know. I wish I did know.”
My grandparents came to America in 1924. They had been living in Kleinschwand, Germany and they boarded a ship named “Munchen” in Bremen one day and arrived in New York on January 11, 1924. They never returned to their homeland and they never told us they were unhappy with their decision to come to this country.
This is not an uncommon American story.
My grandfather had been a soldier in the Kaiser’s army and spent some time in a French prisoner of war camp during what was once known as “The Great War.” Things weren’t very good in Germany in the 20’s, so my grandparents came to Lisbon Falls, Maine, because there was a textile mill there; my grandfather had some skills. He bought a house on a small piece of land in town. He also bought a piece of land across the Little River in Topsham. We call this land “The Farm.”
Like most people in those days, he planted a garden in the back yard and he kept chickens, cows, and horses. O’Pa would work in the mill during the day and work in the garden or on The Farm at night and on Saturdays. In fact, wherever he was, he was working and his six children would work alongside him. The Farm was his cash crop; he planted potatoes and would sell them to the grocery stores in town. He would also cut wood and hay there. My father says he was more comfortable behind a team of horses and perhaps this is why he never quite got the knack for driving his tractor. My father can point out all the gardens in town that my grandfather tilled with his horse and plow.
He was retired by the time I was born; the chickens, cows, and horses were gone but he still kept his two gardens in back of the house. Every summer, he would supply our families with rhubarb, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and corn. There always seemed to be enough for everyone and there was usually a little left over to sell.
I never spent much time in the garden with O’Pa; I usually sat on the porch with Nana. I would walk by their house every day on my way to school with my cousins and Nana would stand in the kitchen window and wave to us. She never missed a day. I don’t remember if my grandparents ever verbalized any dreams they might have had for us grandchildren. When my grandmother sent me my confirmation card, she simply wrote “be a good girl.”
I hope I didn’t disappoint her.
One summer day in 1986 or 1987, my grandfather fell down in the garden. We teased him about it and how the police dispatcher had reported the incident by saying “man down on Pleasant Street.” We found out he had cancer; perhaps it had metastasized to his bones and that was why he fell. Uncle Bob took care of him so he didn’t have to go to a nursing home. He died at home in 1988; he was 89.
Uncle Bob still lives in my grandparents’ house and he still plants the garden. Somehow, I finagled my way in through the little garden in back of the big garden; maybe it was the year Uncle Bob had his hip replacement surgery. That was my first summer “helping out” and I didn’t do a very good job. I didn’t really know what I was doing. Most of the garden went unplanted, although I did have the wherewithal to plant some buckwheat so the soil wouldn’t erode. Each summer, I’ve started a little earlier and planted more things. I now garden in about one-quarter of the big garden and most of the little garden, with the exception of O’Pa’s rhubarb patch.
I like being in the garden; Uncle Bob is easy-going and fun and I learn a lot of things from him. We have a good garden together.
Being in the garden is a relatively new thing for me. I have spent a lot of time running in the mist of corporations, chicken coop-sized condos, and six-lane highways. When I get in my Jeep at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning and head north to Maine, the mist starts to dissolve and I don’t feel so lost. In fact, I feel more found.
Thanks, O’Pa, for helping me find my way through the mist.
Tomorrow: The last installment of the “All My Gardens” posts—why I garden in an undisclosed location.