28 April 2011

How does my garden grow?

My friends have started to comment, "It's been a long time since you've blogged."  I joke that,  although unintentionally, I apparently gave up blogging for Lent.  In truth, I've been hugely depressed.  Why?  

It's Spring... for as long as I can remember all that teeming new life and hope make me feel hopeless and lifeless.  All this transitory beauty seems like such extravagant waste.  "It is the blight man was born for..."  I probably need to read some Hopkins while listening to Gregorian chant.  Seriously, for me it helps.

Grandma Wieland in her kitchen, 1971,
holding keepsakes from my wedding.
Several of my young friends and family members are in marriages that are ending and I remember the joy that marked their weddings and weep.  Marriage and divorce are not private and personal matters since they grow out of and into the community of the "dearly beloved... gathered here to unite..."  I know that "happily ever after" is extraordinarily rare except in fairy tales but...  {sigh!}

A number of my young friends are mourning grandparents and I mourn for them.  I know what they may not yet know, that the death of those we love and those who love us is a life-long wound.  Yes, of course, there is Easter and Resurrection-promised, but now we wait beside our tombs that are not yet empty.

Depression is like drought; it's an unchosen time of waiting, of lying fallow, of praying  "O thou lord of life, send my roots rain."

In the meantime, I've been working in my yard, tending a literal garden in the hope that some time spent "in green pastures... beside still waters..." will "restore my soul."  My yard looks great:

  Red geraniums in memory of Gran Cummings & David's father.

Caladiums & indigo spire sage come back after the frost of winter. 
The magnolis tree has also recoverd from the damage of  Ike and is in glorious bloom.

DMP loves blue & got me some pretty new pots.  Herbs flourish.

Patio garden.
  Pepper & eggplant ready to bloom;
 a harvest will come.
I begin to sense that the darkness is passing and that I may be about ready to "arise and shine."

One of the things I do in down times, uncreative times, is sort, file, and edit. Rather than sharing my reading in this post, I'll share something I wrote several years ago and recently reworked.

In this short story/memoir/personal essay--the lines between fact and fiction are blurred in the telling--I attempted to capture the fragility of age and the bittersweet mood of memory, the interweaving of past and present.   I tried to reproduce the cadence of the speech of my grandmother's generation, using phrases and grammatical constructions without resorting to dialect.  The moment of time in this story is 1966. 

Winter Magnolias
  by K Cummings Pipes
in memory of Grandma Mary Bridget Atzenhoffer Wieland

She reached down the jacket and bonnet from behind the kitchen door. Since girlhood she had protected her skin’s fairness from the sun’s burning. Nowadays, her granddaughters ran around half-naked, tanning their skin a deep brown. Even so, they were pretty girls. The young one, especially, was a lot like her—short and well-rounded with red-gold hair. In her day, she too had been pretty. She had known it and had taken care to protect her skin with jacket, bonnet, and gloves. Despite her precautions, years of stress aided by the West Texas wind wrinkled her face. Old age’s liver spots marred her fairness. Still, by long established habit, she put on the jacket and bonnet before going outside to work the garden. No gloves, not anymore, since half her eyesight was in her fingertips. She stepped out to the porch and bent to change her slippers for the old shoes she wore when working. As she laced and tied them, the wind carried a strong whiff of honeysuckle to her. Another pair of shoes, another place, another time. Her granddaughter--the older one, the smart one--would call it déjà vu. She had no name for the feeling. She simply enjoyed the moment and allowed her mind to enlarge it into memory.

She had come in from the field so tired. It must have been a hundred degrees in the shade. She had chopped cotton through the heat of the day, planning to take off early for the dance. Her very first. She had taken that hand-me-down dress from the banker’s wife she scrubbed floors for--the banker’s wife was so fat there was plenty of material—and had cut the silk to fit her own budding figure. She had ached for the pair of shoes she had seen at the store but her mother had forbidden her and bought a pair of heavy brogans. Who could dance in brogans? But dear brother Henry could never stand to see his little Mary unhappy. He bought her those shiny black shoes that did not lace but buttoned all the way to the top with brass buttons that shone like gold. Beautiful, fashionable—just like the girl in the Sears Roebuck catalog. That blue silk had matched her eyes. The black shoes had flown across the wooden slats while fiddles sang and honeysuckle sweetened the air. Just as the memory now sweetened her day.

Enough day-dreaming, the flags and pansies needed weeding. With some luck that thunderhead might bring a shower, at least it was building up in the northwest, the right direction for rain. The moisture would help the flowers but it would help the weeds more. She got down on her knees to see the plants a little better and began pulling the unwanted roots from the ground. She worked steadily for half an hour and began to feel warm even though the evening cool was setting in. The yard was a lot of work but worth it, especially so the year her yard had won the prize. It might not look like much these days, but it had sure been pretty then. She was still proud of her yard, proud of her flowers. Flowers, even wild ones, did not come easy in this country. Back home, flowers had seemed to grow everywhere.

The entire field in front of the house had been colored with them. She could still see him, straight and tall, walking across that field. He had picked a bunch of wild flowers , bluebonnets and Indian paint brush, for her. They had said he was too old for her, “old Robin Gray come a-courtin’.” She had looked at the love and laughter in his eyes and had seen all the years ahead, years of working and praying together. They had had a good life until he passed on. She blinked away tears and wondered that twenty years had passed. Still, she had his children. And memories. She left an orange prairie flower nodding among the pansies. A wild flower was not a weed.

She thought she heard a noise and a shadow passed in front of her hands, startling her. She turned quickly, straining eyes and ears to identify the intruder. No one; nothing. Probably only a cloud and the wind freshened by the coming storm. Silly old woman. But you never knew; there were so many bad things happening nowadays. A woman living alone could not be too careful. She took a deep breath. A woman living alone could not live in a dither of fear either.
"the boy" Kelvin,
"the smart one" K, Grandma, "the pretty one" Zacha

An unexpected visitor might just as well be the grandkids. They came by every once in a while. Why, they stopped by about this time last Friday, brought her a small carton of strawberry ice cream. They admired her flowers and chattered on and on about the dance, “prom” they called it. The younger girl, the one who looked like her, had been all excited; it would be her first dance. The boy had gone by the florist to pick up a corsage for his girl. His mama had told him that gardenias were always proper. Did she think so? He showed them to her—gardenias, white and sweet like magnolias. The smell was like magnolias, too, only a bit less lemony. She wanted to tell them about the magnolia but they were in a hurry. They had driven away in the car their daddy got them. Their daddy spoiled those kids. Their mama’s daddy had not had much chance to spoil her.

He had been gone for almost two months when Will came by. Dear, dear Will who had stood up for them at their wedding. How solemn he had looked apologizing for missing the funeral. He had brought her a magnolia. Climbed right up on the hood of the car and reached over the fence and picked it, he had said, with some old lady yelling that he had no call to take her flowers. That was little enough compared with other things he had taken, with some of the trouble he had been in. Will had driven hell-for-leather bringing that magnolia to her. It was brown and wilty by the time he got it here, but, oh, it had smelled so sweet. Sweet as laughter after two months of tears. Sweet as flowers for a young girl’s dance.

She began putting away the tools and looked hopefully to the northwest. That thunderhead was going to slide off to the west; no rain tonight. She got the hose and turned on the faucet. So much water for the flowers made the bills too high. Last summer, it had been hard to stretch the money to cover it. Her check stayed the same but the bills grew like weeds. She prayed that the rain would come soon. In just a bit, the lambsquarter and poke would come in season, and she could eat greens. That would save grocery money. Then the vegetables would start up but vegetables used a lot of water, too. Still, if she were careful with the water and careful with the money, she would make it. She always had. Times were always hard for a widow woman. The water spattered the ground and washed the dust from leaves, making them shine. Little drops ran down inside the blooms. In the fading light, it looked like dew. She smiled at the memory of dewy mornings she had known as a child.

She found herself humming. The tune had been stuck in her mind for some time, going round and round. Now she took it for that old waltz. She couldn’tt remember a time when she had not known it. As a little girl, she had thought the song belonged to her because it had her name in it. Later, young men had sung it to her when she rode in their buggies. Not that she had gone riding with just anyone who asked her; she was not that sort of girl. It was a pretty song. “Mary, Mary, pretty Mary, be my love so fair.” No one called her Mary anymore. Most of her friends had passed away. Casual acquaintance of her generation maintained an old-fashioned formality. Everyone called her Mrs. Wieland. Or Grandma. Young people who she hardly knew sometimes called her grandma. She was not quite sure she liked that.

The scent of the flowers was fading; the blossoms closed, curling in on themselves. The morning sun would open them again but today’s light was almost gone. She turned off the faucet and put away the hose. A lingering brightness in the west streaked the rain that was falling on other fields and gardens. She sat heavily on the porch and changed back into her slippers. Again, she remembered when dancing in new black shoes had been so very important. With a smile and a sigh, she lingered a bit but even a West Texas twilight does not last forever. Time to go in. She hung her jacket and bonnet on the nail behind the door and closed it to shut out the night.