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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Spencer, West Virginia

Far back in my memory is a garden belonging to my childhook and to My Aunt E.  My memory hears the sounds of my Dad's extended family, tastes the watermelon and sees my two old great aunts with their soft skin, overly rouged cheeks and huge hugs.  An embrace, in which either E or Nelle pulled one of us wary children deep into her full perfumed bosom, could end with that child gasping for air.
The garden was a mystery to my five-year-old mind.  My father's grandmother had planted it many years earlier.  The home was the oldest one in town. I believed the garden was as old as the house, part of its foundation, living, yet no less sturdy than the brick structure that it graced.
There was a true garden path, which ws inviting, but also very intimidating.  The path appeared to extend for miles, miraculously extending far beyond the measured size of her lot. Protected as it was by several sentinel hollyhocks, tall and stooped, guarding against any small child who contemplated stepping forward, the garden was not carelessly entered.  I seldom went beyond this entrance though sometimes my mother took me past the hollyhock sentries into the hidden world beyond.  I rememer several short paths, and many hidden corners vibrant with flowers of all sizes and colors.  Here and there was a paving stone barely visible as the garden usurped bits of space which had been allocate to the path.
From the viewpoint of a small girl, there seemed no end to the height of these plants.  I held tightly to my mother's hand and looked up at the blossoms while bees buzzed all around me.  If we talked, I don't remember it.  I only recall the overwhelming feeling that we were nowhere near the rest of the family lounging far back in  the yard.  In my mind's eye there seems no organization to the planting and color of this exciting garden.
The garden was hot.  With no trees, the sun dealt its full force upon this plot of ground.  Since our family always met at Aunt E's home in the middle of the afternoon, the hottest part of the day and before such things as air conditioning, it was with relief that my mother and I rejoined the rest of the family into the house yard. Old trees whose roots excaped the earth and snaked their way along the yard, often coming to the surface as if for a breath of air, gave cool luxurious shade to the yard.  One side was given to a grape arbor,overgrown a bit, but a great place to escape a pursuing cousin, or the watchful eye of a parent.


Lunch was a wonderful assortment supplied mostly by mothers and wives set upon the homemade, waist-high tables.  Deserts were more plentiful in those days before dietary guilt.  No matter what your family brought for the main meal, you were certain to also bring a desert.
My dad's cousin, Louis, often brought homemade ice cream though there is a family legend which says that once when Louis was short on time, he filled the old ice cream freezer with the "store-bought" variety. Whether true or not, this story is filed away in my memory with the many sensory pleasures of those times.
When the meal was over, the adults settled back into painted wooden lawn chairs and sank into a hibernation-like state as we children began running about the yard, ignoring our parent's desire for quiet.  All the while, the garden hollyhocks watched and dared me to pass their gate.

I would give a week of summer to be able to go back to that place.  Just let me return for an hour to step confidently onto the path,investigate the hidden nooks, and explore at will.  I would relish the way house became yard and yard became garden.  Things would appear differently now.  For one thing, I'm much bigger, no longer needing my mother's hand to face the wild beauty beyond the blooming sentries in my Aunt E's garden.

While sculpting my own garden, that distant place is forever creeping in as it does in many of my sleeping dreams.  Bits of that calm shady yard, along with the excitement and color that was found beyond the hollyhock gate, flow from my memory onto the landscape.  A garden such a the one I remember will take years of time.  I'll take the time.  My stepping stones are in place, patiently waiting as the garden grows around them.  I am making my own secret corners, filling them with peices of my memory and Aunt E's garden.

All photos by author off Beyond My Garden but the house in Spencer was taken by Orton Jones
The family picnic photo was probably taken by Elmer Dodson

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