In the garden


In the soft warmth of the evening Jane and Tessa were enjoying a refreshing drink of cold water as they watched the sun slowly widen on the horizon, tingeing the tops of the corn husks in phosphorescent orange.

“I think we should grow a quarter acre of peas next year, just to try them out, hopefully the weather won’t turn too hot.”

Tessa was unusually quiet, but nodded her head and closed her eyes to acknowledge that she heard.

The little plot of land was Jane’s pride and joy, she probably was the most hard working person around this neck of the woods and could make anything grow, just anything, it was her talent. The strong perfume of nicotiana and petunias saturated the slightly humid air, wafting under the grapevine arbor, like an essence unseen. On the wooden table under the vine lay a large enameled bowl filled with apples. Jane walked slowly towards the table, massaged her sore hip and sat down with a small gasp. She wasn’t as spry as she used to be, now in her golden years, but she could still hold her own with the youngsters, people nowadays always seem to need a reason to do stuff, like their hands were rented to them and they were concerned not to scuff them, heaven forbid, unless it was absolutely necessary. She wiped the paring knife with her apron and started peeling apples for the pie. Tessa loved the fresh smell of apple pie and always found her way to the kitchen while it was baking. Despite Jane’s friendly nudging, she never tried to taste it, though. The apples were sweet and slightly tart, the best kind for pie, the green summer apple variety that is not easy to find anymore.

Jane remembered when they planted that apple tree, so many years ago she didn’t even want to count them. She could almost see her mother sitting at the same table, peeling apples with the very same knife she was now holding in her hand. The knife was much shinier then and looked so scary to little Jane, especially since her mother was adamant she should not touch it, ever, for any reason, and expressed this wish with broad gestures that included said sharp implement.

The blade was thinner now, grace of countless sharpenings, and Jane’s palm was so accustomed to the shape of the handle she sometimes forgot she had it in her hand. It was hard to understand, she wandered deeper into her thoughts, while her hands were paring and slicing fruit with automatic moves stripped of unnecessary gestures after so many years of practice, why her children took so much time arguing about how things were to be done, for crying out loud, in half the time it took them to make up their minds she would have finished the job, and she was twice their age.

Her mother would never have used one more word than was absolutely necessary to convey meaning, since she found idle chatter sinful. She would tell Jane once to do something and at the end of the sentence she expected the chore to be already started. Jane smiled when she thought about her mother, who seemed larger than life in her childhood, and whom she watched intently with a conflicting blend of admiration and healthy fear. Jane stopped for a second to laugh heartily at her little girl image of grown-ups. They seemed so wise and all knowing then, they seemed to have the answer to everything. In retrospect she realized that they were making life up as they went, there was no secret wisdom to behold then, just as it wasn’t for her when she reached adulthood.

Things change so much in life, she thought, many things she used to believe sounded so absurd now. She started laughing again when she remembered the story about the family tradition of cutting off the ends of the ham before putting it in the oven. It seems it took that family three generations to find out that the grandmother who started the trend did so because her sauce pan was too small. She wondered how many things like that she did herself, looked at the worn handle and smiled, then continued peeling the apples with the sweeping spiral movement that had become so second nature.

Her children sometimes talked about stuff she found difficult to grasp and they seemed interested in things she didn’t know existed. Every time they came over there was a new gizmo or word they would use to do goodness knows what, she was just relieved that she raised them to know right from wrong, do unto others and keep their chins up. ‘Everything else can be learned and accomplished’, she thought, ‘if the heart is in the right place.’ After all people told her she couldn’t do things when she was young, that it was not her station, that she didn’t have what it took, and she didn’t listen. She knew that it was up to her to fail or succeed and never shied away from a challenge or from trying new ways.

Some of the ways worked and some again didn’t, but she felt she was better for trying. She was lucky to have learned from her grandfather that life is not a race to zoom through at top speed, just to arrive at the end quickly. He aimed to make his life a pleasant journey through the woods, where you can stop in clearings to pick flowers and jump from stone to stone to cross bubbling brooks. He didn’t always succeed at this, life won’t let one, but he always aspired to this state and lived it whenever he could.

This is what Jane saw growing up: contentment, balance and respect for human dignity, and this is how she learned to enjoy her existence, free from the usual coveting of things one doesn’t have and in appreciation of the gifts God saw fit to grace upon her. Her grandfather also taught Jane to give of herself to the things she held dear, no matter how unimportant they seemed to other people, or how unusual. As luck has it, she took to loving gardening, which is not all that strange in the countryside and was well esteemed. Some of the things she learned from her grandfather, some she found out from books, some she tried for herself and some just happened. Jane was a firm believer in things that just happen, to the dismay of her family and friends.

“Things don’t just happen if you think for yourself, Jane, if a you saw a bird falling from the sky on top of your head would you just watch it hit you?”  the wisdom of her mother echoed over a span of forty years.

Jane smiled at the older generation’s almost religious belief that life can be guided and controlled to the last detail. Sometimes things just happen and fortunately most often than not, unexpected good things that one wouldn’t think about in a million years just happen. On the list of things that just happened to Jane featured her marriage and children, her book collection ( entrusted to her by a much loved great aunt), her healthy and fit constitution, good and faithful friends, and almost uncannily favorable weather conditions that would allow her to try and succeed at growing almost anything almost anywhere. There was such favor thrust upon her in the ways of gardening that some of the village gossips suspected magic, especially since she had a keen interest in medicinal and aromatic plants and their uses, but they asked for advice anyway, because they knew they could trust it.

Maybe life wasn’t so complicated, after all Jane managed to get through a good chunk of it and things always seemed to find a way of working out (she could almost see her mother squirm in anguish at this lackadaisical approach to daily living). Jane had her share of disappointments like everybody else, but she didn’t have regrets. One thing that gave her strength through thick and thin, aside from her faith, was the comforting confidence her green thumb imparted on her.

Jane glanced around to see where Tessa was, she had gotten so used to having her near all the time that she felt her absence without looking. She noticed Tessa enjoying the warmth of a sun baked flagstone a couple of feet from the garden gate and returned to peeling apples. She was almost finished with them, and good timing too, since the sun had already set and it was turning dark.

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