Mother Knows Best
article and drawing by E. J. Brunton
Mother was tough but she was fair. She gave me the guidelines for living a successful life: honesty, the Do Unto Others rule; the hard work ethic, punctuality, and keeping promises were just a few. She was not lavish with praise. You had the guidelines and you were expected to follow them – or else.
Father - when he was home - was in the garden from early thaw to late freeze. He reinforced the hard work ethic as I assisted him. Lugging 50 pound bags of fertilizer and five gallon watering cans gave me muscles that no 10 year old girl ought to have.
But it was my other Mother that comforted me. No. I wasn’t adopted; unless you could call Mother Earth’s acceptance of me an adoption. When life got too much for me I would go out into the garden and lie down under a bleeding heart bush and shed my tears into her comforting bosom. It is a wonder that poor bleeding heart didn’t die from all the salt.
“Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll go and eat worms!” Sometimes now when I am tending to my red wiggler worm ranch I think of those words and I can smile. I haven’t been tempted to taste one of the little fellows yet though.
There were lots of rules as to what I could and could not do in the garden. I could do the weeding and dig the holes for planting. I could water. I could spray poisons on things. I could mow the lawn with the push mower. I could rake it. I could cut the hedge with the manual clippers.
What I couldn’t do I found out the hard way. Once at school we were given a packet of mixed seeds. I was so excited. Seeds of my very own! Home I rushed thinking of just the spot for them. Right at the front of the garden, near the bleeding heart was a space that would be perfect. I prepared the tiny patch and checked the seed packet for directions. I used all the lessons father taught me and was proud of my neat little patch. I put in a little stake and put the seed packet on it so I would remember what I had planted.
Father came home, changed his clothes and went directly to the garden. In a minute he was back red-faced and shouting. How dare I destroy the symmetry of his perfect garden? “Get that stuff out of there right now,” he yelled. I was devastated as I tried my best to pluck out and save the tiny seeds I had planted.
Crying under the bleeding heart was not an option today since Father was out there. Instead I went to a friend’s house. My little heart was bursting with shame and rejection. When my friend’s mother asked me what was wrong it unleashed a torrent of emotion that was discouraged at home. No one had ever asked me in such a kind tone before. Right away she told me to bring my seeds up to her garden and plant them there.
She must have called my Mother too, who in turn, ripped my Dad a new one. I came home to a resentful Father who grudgingly told me that I could have a patch of earth to myself and plant my seeds there. I guess it had never occurred to him that I might want something of my own in the garden.
Gardening has not always comforted me, or lifted me up, or filled me with joy. I seldom ever had a real garden to my self. Most of my life I made-do by turning my apartments into Amazon jungles. Hanging plants provided curtains. Tall ones were room dividers and corner fillers. Small ones nestled on the windowsill and in my shower stall.
Gardening at my first home was made difficult because of the poor soil and my own work commitments. But still I managed to grow celery, eggplant, tomatoes and a few flowers in the cement-like soil.
It took me 60 years to get my very own garden. But it was worth the wait. The soil is the best I could hope for: rich, crumbly and virgin. There is plenty of room for rain barrels, compost piles, vegetables, trees and flowers. And best of all I am free to make all the decisions.
When I came here there was one small garden by the side of the house. Hollyhocks fought a life and death battle with sow thistle taller than me. The first year I didn’t do much but clear the weeds and plant my favorite flowers, peonies and of course a bleeding heart.
Five years later the garden has over taken the lawn and my life. And in my garden and my life I practice all the lessons my Mother and Father taught me but most of all the ones, my other Mother, continues to teach me.
Mother Earth has shown me the other side, the pleasures and the joys of gardening. Hard work yes, but not something I ever begrudge. My bleeding heart gets watered regularly but not by tears.
These words written by Canadian author and artist, Emily Carr are inscribed on her tombstone. They eloquently express how I feel about the great big garden that belongs to all of us.
Dear Mother Earth!
I think I have always specially belonged to you. I have loved from babyhood to roll upon you, to lie with my face pressed right down on to you in my sorrows. I love the look of you and the smell of you and the feel of you. When I die, I should like to be in you uncoffined, unshrouded, the petals of flowers against my flesh, and you covering me up.