This is what I want to remember - not the frail, dead mother in the nursing home bed, but this: my mother and I, when I was little, on a spring morning, walking through the garden together, barefoot, in our bathrobes, to see what might have bloomed overnight.
It was sort of like calling on the neighbors. Every plant was known to us, and loved, and we would more or less stop in for a visit to each one, in turn. We would check on the large-blossomed, light pink azalea, an exact twin of which grew in Mildred's yard, next door. We crouched to inspect the violets, both purple and white, outside the kitchen windows, and to marvel at the ferns uncurling into fronds.
My mother took so many flowers in her hands, and showed me them up close: the delicate, complicated parts of the bleeding heart; the tiny white bells of the lily of the valley arranged along their sturdy stalks. She reached up and pulled the long branches of the mock orange down, so that I could smell the fragrant, white flowers at the tips. She taught me that mint likes wet feet, and to plant it under the dripping hose bib. Whenever we passed the mint, she stopped, rolled a leaf between her fingers, and held it out for me to smell.
Sometimes a big flowering perennial needed dividing to remain in good health, and so we got dressed in work clothes and returned to the garden with a pair short-handled spades. Mom taught me to tread lightly in a crowded garden, to recognize weeds from seedlings, and not to step on anybody inadvertently while backing up. It's not easy to dig up a large existing plant without disturbing the neighbors, but once we managed, we hauled our patient to the lawn, and laid it on its side, preparing for surgery. Mom taught me to place the tip of the spade at the very heart of the crown, and stand on it with authority, rocking back and forth until the mother plant was cleaved in two. Sometimes I fell off my shovel, and often it took a few tries, but once I had it, she taught me how to replant each half properly, preparing the new hole, setting the crown at the correct height, backfilling the soil, and watering the transplant in.
Mom and I wore cloth gardening gloves, and brushed our hair back from our sweaty foreheads with the backs of our wrists. I knew who I was then. I was not yet a mother, not yet a wife, or a divorcee, or a stepmother. I was just my mother's daughter. I was her, wanted her, wanted to be her, like her, liked by her, with her, of her, beside her.
A breeze blew in the wild cherry above us. The cardinals feasted on the fruit, and I on my mother's quiet companionship.
For my mother, Barbara Buckley Kerschner (1926 - 2018)
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