I walked in my garden tonight and what I saw and heard and smelled there pleased me. The rhododendrons are in various stages of bloom, each their own spectacular shade, the azaleas quietly spreading lower and wide but with more arresting aromas. Seabirds waken us every morning but these songbirds of the evening are busily making nests in the cedar hedge and chattering about the babies they expect to feed soon.
We have worked hard to create and maintain this property to mature status.The result I observed tonight makes all the stiff muscles and sore hands worthwhile. My walk in the garden reminds me of my mother who did the same thing every evening after her chores were done and before she settled down with a crossword puzzle or a game of scrabble with a friend.
I have never thought I had much in common with my mother. Now I have found just a whispering suspicion that it may not have been entirely true. I knew her as a consummate sportswoman: rowing, fishing, hiking, curling, softball and hunting. Only later came the gardening.
That was never me. From my earliest years I wanted to spend time indoors with crafts, games, puzzles and books. Even when we were going someplace on our boat – the only means we had of travel – I would position myself to enjoy a book. On one occasion while Mom rowed I tried to read while holding a fishing line in one hand. The question she asked was “What will you do when the fish bites?”
Mom sought opportunities to be outdoors, occupied in some physical activity whenever possible. The places we lived until I was nine years old severely limited Mom’s outdoor activities. After we moved, and when she was old enough, my younger sister was similarly inclined and keen to accompany Mom doing many activities like picking berries for jam or collecting salal to sell for cash.
I was well aware that my father had hoped to have a son. So it was that when my sister displayed her love of so many outdoor and sporting activities he nicknamed her, “Judy Boy.” By then I had become a “bookworm,” in their minds. It did hurt just a bit but in the words of my own daughter, “It is what it is.”
I realize now that Mom was essentially a “farm girl” who happened to fall in love with and marry a hand logger. For the first 10 years of Mom’s married life their home sat on a float entirely surrounded by water. Then when the floathouse was towed to Rock Bay and the house pulled up on reclaimed land there was still no soil for gardening. For five years they lived in the original house but it was set on what was essentially a gravel surface, and surrounded by stirred up dust of moving trucks and other vehicles. Neither location gave Mom any opportunity to grow anything: flowers or vegetables or fruit, as her own mother had done when the family lived in Alberta, Vancouver or Jackson Bay.
From the time they moved from Rock Bay into the house on Hilchey Road Mom made tilling the ground around the new place her passion. Dad was away working a lot, Judy in high school and I was at university, so Mom had plenty of free time. She improved the soil and created a fenced English Country Garden haven for butterflies, bees, and birds. That is, until Dad insisted they move to another lot where he could once again see the ocean.
She made the move, as expected, but we knew it was unwillingly. At the new property she refused to have anything to do with the garden, which left Dad to fertilize and water the few plants already established there. His gardening focus was growing boysenberries and that involved watering each night.
About the same time Mom’s rheumatoid arthritis kicked in. It is a dreadful disease and I and I am thankful to have only ‘regular’ arthritis that Advil can keep at bay. Long after she was gone I am realizing we do have some things in common. Mom was always artistic with her garden plantings and creative craft creations. It was only when Dad insisted they move and she started receiving her own Canada Pension to use to buy oil paints and brushes with that she took up painting. Whenever Mom and Dad were on their forays into the wilds in their camper Mom took photographs of beautiful natural landscapes of forests, lakes, mountains and glaciers. So now she used her own photographs to create oil paintings that we all treasure.
An evening walk in my mature garden on the edge of the ocean I have always loved has unexpectedly become a memorial to my mother. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be made to leave this place, for any reason.
Sometimes a simple thought hits so strong it must be written.