Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Gardens in Time

The teenage years were a trying time for my family. The three oldest were just 15 months apart and all those hormones hit my Catholic parents like a ton of bricks. Vietnam briefly made 18 year olds legal adults. A strong work ethic and a lower middle class life had the first three hatchlings leaving the nest for their first solo flights at seventeen.

The chronology of that time gets foggy in my mind. I have been accused by my mom of having a faulty memory and my best friend of 30 years would concur. I prefer to see it as a different form of memory retention and markers. Don’t ask me to remember a particular day or a particular conversation. I remember a stretch of time, a place where I lived, the garden I had there.

The Student Ghetto was a section of town on the north side of the University of Florida campus. It was several streets of ramshackle wooden buildings, apartments made from old boarding houses for a different social ethos in the Universities younger days. This is the part that is foggy. Some how I ended up living very briefly in the ground floor of one of these decrepit old buildings and I don’t think I was in college at the time.

The place was sad, just barely white with long faded paint and was shaped like a big rectangular barn with stairs up one side wall to the second floor. The yard was a dirt parking lot strewn with bits of trash and edged with uncut grass and weed trees.

Florida gets real hot and swamp muggy in the summer and I was lucky that this downstairs back unit had some nice shady entry steps to sit on outside when it got too hot to be inside. To the left of the steps was this patch of neglected earth and it called out to me. So I cleaned up the trash, pulled up the weeds and planted myself a small flower bed. I planted the big leafed Elephant Ears and a few other things. Not much really, just enough to look at while I sat sweating in teen angst on the cool back porch.

A friend came by to visit one day and saw my little garden. Looking at the dump I lived in they couldn’t help but ask why I would go to the trouble of planting a garden in this horrible place that I would not be staying in long. Without thinking I just said “I want this place to be better when I leave”.

I have had many gardens in my life now. Each one unique and many not expected from a tenant. My mysterious generous behavior that most people did not understand was that I was not tending the house. I was tending the earth, making it better than how I found it and it was tending me back in return.

1 comment:

whistlestop caboose said...

This is a lovely piece of writing, and a really nice commentary on why we garden. Loved reading it.