My Mothers Garden
I love to talk about Purposeful Living with others and share how it's affected my life. But sometimes when I get to the part about doing what you need to do my listeners eyes glaze over and I know I've lost them. I get the response that it doesn't seem like much "fun" to find your purpose and do what you need to do. In fact, it sounds rather Calvinistic. It sounds like trudging uphill in the rain with your head down ? oblivious to your surroundings.
"Where's the joy?", someone asked once. "What about fun and having a good time?".
I never really knew how to respond except to assure my listener that I do have a lot of fun and I enjoy getting my purpose accomplished. So far I haven't been very convincing.
Next time I'll tell them about my mother's garden.
It was in the North of England where I grew up. It probably wasn't particularly beautiful by objective standards but it was Heaven to me. As soon as the temperature climbed out of the fifties I'd rush out into the brief English summer and throw a bedspread on the grass. We were on the Coast so the clouds were always fantastically shaped and fast-moving and I would lie on my back looking up at them and daydreaming. If we were lucky and our timing was right we could sometimes get a tan as long as we were mindful about turning over frequently. A big mistake in an English Summer was to tan on one side and assume you'd do the other side the next day. Invariably that would be the last sunny day for months and your skin would be striped red, brown and white like a Neapolitan ice cream. Always, too, in the Summer there was the inevitable litter of puppies rolling around from whichever mutt we had at the time.
As a single parent, my mother worked most of the time. When she did I was a latchkey kid. When she was between jobs I loved spending time with her in the garden. She may have missed cleaning the house some days but she never neglected her garden. She daren't. We needed the vegetables.
She had planted strawberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries and rhubarb. Our vegetables were potatoes, of course, cabbages, lettuce, carrots and all the root veggies you needed to get through a long winter. We had flowers, too. There were hydrangea, her prized roses and a wild, flowering lilac tree. But it was the vegetables we prized most.
I loved the Summers when we were home together. As the baby of the family I spent much of my time with her. While my brother and sister were off doing whatever teenagers did in the North of England in the sixties my mother and I would traipse out to the garden in the morning and stay there till nightfall.
Because we were so far North it was light until 10 "o" clock at night. The evening light had a thin, clear quality to it. Each evening the stars came out while the sky was still light. I couldn't have guessed that I would one day live in a part of the world where this wouldn't happen.
We always had an old transister radio with us. We worked, for the most part, in harmony and silence. We listened to the BBC all day long. Each afternoon there was an orginal one hour play then serializations of classics such as Great Expectations or Les Miserables which left you hanging from day to day. There was Woman's Hour, endless quiz and comedy shows and, of course, The Archers " - an everyday story of country folk."
We would weed our way down the rows of cabbages, aerating as we went. The soil was rich and dark and it never would have occurred to us to fertilize it. Looking back I wonder what we did out there all day. There couldn't have been that much yard work to do ? but somehow we made it last until well into the evening. Sometimes we'd pull some rhubarb and my mother would take it into the house and simmer it with a little honey and cinnamon until it was a fragrant puree and we'd eat it warm with ice cream.
Last week I was sick. I invariably considered illness to be a character defect but this time I was completely without energy. My body was taking no nonsense and was clearly admonishing me that it couldn't clean my house; make my writing deadlines AND get rid of the virus. I decided to take to my bed for an entire day and give it time to do its thing. It rained the whole day ? the tail end of a monsoon-like system peculiar to California. Ordinarily, I have a great view of snow-capped mountains. But this day I could barely see to the end of my garden which was misty and grey all day. The air deadened sound contributing to my feeling of being cocooned.
Too tired even to read, I turned up the heat and brought my laptop to bed. These days you can stream BBC radio live over the internet. And I did. I burrowed down as far as I could and drifted in and out of sleep as the radio played. I listened to a play about a woman Victorian private detective and discovered a new satirical radio blog. There were also quizzes and comedy shows from my childhood played in that curiously British vaudeville style. I dozed and listened as memories of my childhood summers washed over me. I could almost smell the lilacs.
The next day was dry and clear. Bored with lying in bed all day I was grateful for action. The rest had done me good. It occurred to me that I had been sensible and had done exactly what I needed to do. My purpose had been to rest to heal myself. I'd accomplished that. It also occurred to me that the radio had been pure pleasure which I had layered on top of my purpose.
I realized, then, that the discovery and implementation of purpose was not just an end to itself but also a foundation on which I could add actions and feelings and, yes, fun which could enrich my own life and nurture others. It was the opposite of my efforts to peel away the additional, man-made suffering from the inevitable suffering of everyday life. Imagine driving a car for so many years in reverse only to find that you have a forward gear too! What a world of opportunity opens up.
My mother loved her garden and cultivated it because that's what she had to do. We needed the vegetables. She grew them. She had to. She didn't have to patiently show her little girl how to prune an unruly rose-brush nor how to pick the delicate wild strawberries without crushing them. These tasks she lovingly undertook to bond us to each other and to provide me with memories enough for a lifetime ? certainly enough for one long and rainy day in California.
Mary Rosendale is a Holistic Coach, writer and proud Mama of "The Constructed Life". Visit her virtual self at http://www.TheConstructedLife.com
Direct Answers - Column for the week of May 26, 2003
Direct Answers - Column for the week of September 23, 2002
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