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The Magic Generational Garden
written by: Debbie Aruta
I sat in my mother’s chair in the garden shed and could feel my mother’s garden growing. My mother had been in this very spot numerous times swearing she could hear vines whispering their greetings at her. I always thought my mother a little bit off when she would speak of her garden as if it was a person but sitting here myself has taught me otherwise. My mother had a gift with this garden. When my mom was sad the flowers felt it and fell over wilting, but when my mother sang to them, the blooms she would get out of her garden could win any flower contest hands down. And now they were all in her care and she hadn’t an idea on how to care for them. In my hands was the note my mother had left me about the garden; “Be of gentle spirit and feel the earth and it will guide you in what it needs for proper care”. I sat there looking at the plants, I sat there re-reading the note a thousand times, but I honestly felt lost without my mother here to guide me.
I moved to stand at a snail’s pace. I got up off my chair and I slipped off my shoes. If I was to feel the earth and listen to what it wants, then I needed to be grounded and feel it under my toes. I took one step away from the chair, then another, and after a few more I was standing in the garden dirt, digging my toes in and trying to listen with my feet. All I felt was dirt and realized quickly that I would never hear what the garden wanted from me. I was not my mother. She had a gift and it passed this generation. It passed me! I took another step and another and soon I was over by her roses. Reds and pinks speckled in with all sorts of apricots, whites, and a few red and whites together. My toes begin to tingle.
I tiptoed to the tulip beds. Green stems were beginning to emerge, and my left foot was twitching. What does that mean? Do you need the sun? Water? Fertilizer? I walk away in a huff of frustration and move on. I go over the lazy Susan’s and see the last years' flowers withered away. They are waiting for my mother to come, but she is gone, and they lay in wait. My fingers begin to twitch, and I realize I am supposed to do something to them when I feel the twitch. All these body movements mean something to the garden. Perhaps the knowing did not skip me, but I am far from figuring out what a twitch means. Who would be able to tell me? My Mom! I race into the living room, dirt between my toes and all, open the side table drawer and pull out her gardening journals. I flip through it with the impatience of a child awaiting their first piece of candy on Halloween. And smack right in the middle of the journal, a handwritten list of feelings which equate to watering, pruning, fertilizing, moving and separating bulbs. Everything you needed to know about gardening when you have the gift.
I took my mom’s journal back to her chair outback. I sat in her chair reading her words for hours. Perhaps I doubted myself too early. She first had tingles and twitches and was not sure what they were or what they meant, but she explored with her reactions to them, she kept notes, watered tulips, felt a sharp pain in big toe. Pruned back gardenias and ended up with a rash on her arms. The garden was telling her what it needed, but she had to figure out what the reactions meant on her own. She documented it all and I prayed my body reacted the same way when a part of the garden needed something, but I would not know until I tried it.
I slowly walk back to the roses. I try to be silent so they did not know I was coming although I was certain they could feel the earth shake under my feet. Again, my toes tingled. Again, I struggle but looked it up in my mother’s journal. Tingling toes, tingling toes, ah yes, tingling toes means the flowers need some un-flowering shoots cut back so the main shoots could be strengthened. I gently walked to the garden shed and took out the hand snippers, I silently walk back to the roses and one by one gently trim the bushes back. My toes wiggle in delight. I went slowly, gently, calmly about my job and at the end of the task, I felt light and giddy that I understood what the garden needed, performed it, and was rewarded both in mind and spirit. I sat again in my mother’s chair, I could feel her hand on my shoulder as if she was saying “Well done my child” and with that I put the shears back into the shed, walk back into the house, tuck the journal back again until another day when I again could explore her lovely gardens. I was now the keeper of them and had her big shoes to fill, but my heart felt closer to her than ever before and I knew she would always watch over me and the gardens.
Over the next week I took out my mother’s journals each day and I delved into her past with the garden. I piled them, by years, on the living room floor. I was going to need a glass of strong whiskey to get through this. I walked to the sidecar situated in the corner of the living room; I grabbed a thick crystal glass and poured a rather large drink of whiskey. I figured will keep me from getting up to refill it once I sit with it down. I take my glass, place it next to my right knee, grab the first stack of journals, and begin to read.
My mother’s journal started with the year she was struggling to get the gift of seeing with the plants. She writes about how her mom and grandmother both could feel, see, sense, what the plants needed. She writes, “I stood there like a garden statue and wondered why this family gift had skipped me. I thought what have I done wrong in my life for me to be excluded from this gift?” My mother’s whole first journal was all about her doubt. She started writing where I am currently, doubting she had the gift and doubting that she would know how to do it. I felt sorrow for my mom and her struggles, but also relief in that I was not the only one who felt this way. She had been here too and doubted herself and her abilities. I was doing that now, even as I read it, saying in my head “Momma I think it skipped me.” Sadness weighed down my heart that I had never felt before. I shut the journal, took a huge swig of whiskey, made my way to the couch, covered up in mom's favorite throw blanket, and cried for the loss of seeing, for the loss of my mom, and for the loss of feeling of ever pleasing my mom again.
The next day I dusted off my pride, my attitude, and my sorrows and I opened another journal and started this journey again. I read my mother’s words until I could hear them in her voice in my head. It was as if she was sitting next to me and telling me what was written. I read through journal after journal and finally found out when my mom came into her seeing power. She was twenty-five and visiting this house and her mother, my grandmother, and she walked through the garden and at the touch of each petal the plants told her what they needed. She had no more tingling, she had no more wiggling of toes and all of a sudden, she knew. She wrote how she went from plant to plant and was filled with seeing. She saw the plants full bloomed, she saw them happy and healthy, and she saw them thriving to an award-winning level. My mom had a way of worshiping the plants and the plants seemed to worship her.
I finished reading all the journals and made notes of all the plants and how she kept them alive and doing so well. I was not going to be the generation this gift skipped. I was going to get it if I had to sleep in the garden every night. I took another swig of whiskey, it seemed to be my new thing, and I slowly opened the door, glanced at the garden, walked out barefoot, and touched the rose petals, the lazy Susan petals, the tulip petals and felt my arms tingle. It started at my fingertips but the longer I touched the stronger the feeling became. I went to the center of the garden. My mother’s journals had mentioned a central location where the plants could speak with her, so I stood in the middle of the garden and spun. I spun slowly at first and then faster and faster until I lost my balance, fell to the ground, and all the plants spoke to me. They welcomed me as their keeper and I felt a sudden love for them all, protectiveness, and I knew I was going to be okay taking care of my family’s generational garden.