And did you get what
you wanted from this life even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth. —Raymond Carver
When we bought our home, the garden it came with had been neglected for years. Totally overgrown. My intention was to bring back a garden, to save it. Beautiful old roses appeared here and there among the tangles and were one of the reasons I loved this property; I knew at some point it belonged to a gardener and I would be the next. I loved taking clips of these roses at breakfast, just the way Mother and Ed did for each other over their morning coffee.
On the first day nine years ago I spent in official “bring back the garden” mode, I fell up to my knee into a rat hole. That did it. With no desire for close rodent encounters, and the realization that too many years stood between gardeners I decided the only reasonable choice was to begin the garden again. Nearly from scratch.
A few days later by way of a local landscape team with a mini excavator we had a new garden canvas –except for four original trees which remained, one a star magnolia. One day when I was out with the new garden planting work, a woman extended a greeting to me from the sidewalk. She said her walks take her past the house every day and when she noticed the major rip-out taking place, she was worried about the star magnolia, that it too would come out. She said, “Every year when I see the tree bloom, I say a prayer for my baby; I had a miscarriage three years ago at the time the tree was in bloom. The star-shaped flowers to me are symbols of my little star, now in heaven.” How sad; yet how beautiful. Now I too think of the mother and baby every year, connected through the tree.
A few days ago, I had a dream about my mother, still alive. She was upset about something, annoyed. I assumed in the dream she was upset with me, as I certainly annoyed–and probably frustrated– her plenty and for a great many of our years. Having this dream during Lent, a time when I make a concerted effort to behave, and still I manage to conjure Mother in an annoyed state, even subconsciously, well, I wonder what that is about. I felt haunted by it just the same.
The next day I went to visit one of our readers for a garden consultation –lovely Helen. Her enclosed garden is charming and I opened wide my eyes to the beauty of it while at the same time allowing what I saw to transport me away to places within my imagination, in part the “genius loci,” the spirit of the place, as designers call it. Aside the garden, lovely Helen’s taste and style are so much like my mother’s: a quilt hangs on the wall, a basket of knitting sits next to the sofa, and artwork arranged in creative groupings all around. I admit to enjoying our chat as much as I felt privileged to see the garden, even though I was feeling loss and the haunting memory of the dream and nostalgia at remembering the interior of my mother’s home. Helen said, “I would love a star magnolia. I had one once an would like another in memory of my mother.” We found a perfect spot for one where Helen can see its bright white from the spot from where she sits to knit. And read. Recounting my visit with Helen, my sister-in-law Julie said that Mother is always here with me. I don’t feel any more like it was I that Mother was annoyed with –thank you, Helen–I’ll put that aside.
Yesterday, while building some spring containers, I saw a couple heading down the walk, junior high school-aged, I’d guess. They didn’t see me, but I continued to watch them. First love? Maybe. The young man reached over and took a small branch tip off the star magnolia and handed it across to his beloved.