On Moms, and Time Well Spent

A (belated) Mother’s Day Tribute to Mom Green

Still Mom with Impatiens

Twelve years ago, Hal and I bought a broken-down Victorian house in a sketchy neighborhood. We had no idea what we were doing. Fortunately, we had Mom Green, who is a whiz with a router, a hammer, and a floor sander.

With my skilled parents’ help, we soon had the old house habitable. Then Mom began applying her talents to charming-up the place, sewing beautiful curtains and pillows and learning to make stained glass. Soon she’d filled all of our planked-in transoms with spectacular, original glass pieces—collaborations between her and Dad Green, lovely in design and execution. They added an irreplaceable note of warmth and personality to Halcyon House. Whenever I’m home, I see Mom’s hand everywhere—the shelves with stained-glass doors she and Dad built, embroidered pillowcases, elegant jeweled window inserts. I can’t imagine ever selling the place.

Then, Mom turned her attentions outside. Thus began our greatest adventure, which you can read about here.

Long story short: Mom and I have spent the past 12 years together digging rather large garden beds one trowelful at a time and planting tiny trees and shrubs that look as if they’ll never amount to anything.

The first couple of years, I could barely contain my impatience (or my impatiens—virtually the only plant I had ever heard of). I wanted drama! Results! I imagined the yard as a lush Xanadu, bright with sinuous rills, where many an incense-bearing tree would blossom, with forests enfolding sunny spots of greenery. And the like.

My ceaseless turmoil seethed as I waited for the freshly-turned earth to deliver unto me the cedarn cover of my imaginings. Meanwhile, a wise and patient Mom abided. And the earth in fast thick pants was breathing,

This spring, twelve years after we first upturned twice five miles of fertile ground (OK, not quite, but I’m really getting into the barefaced Coleridge rip-off now), I watched with wonder as the decade’s labors unfurled, leaf by leaf, rising from soil and skeletal branches like time-release magic.

I finally began to grasp my mother’s wisdom: Dig. Wait. Repeat.

For lo, a garden is never complete. It has already exceeded my wildest Xanadu vision—a savage place it is, and as holy and enchanted as I could have dreamed. But a garden is, by nature, always a work in progress. And it’s taken me more than a decade to learn this: that the planting of seeds is most joyful in the planting itself, less so in the results. Although those do sneak up on you, in the nicest way.

When I stroll in the Halcyon Garden, I see more than Japanese maples and hostas, redbuds and coral bells, irises and sedum. I see hundreds, possibly thousands of hours of Mom time, countless muddy knees and bums, long talks-while-weeding, and a lush relationship growing and maturing, the seeds planted long ago, roots deep and wide.

And I hear one of my mother’s favorite quotes, a colorful Southernism that advises how to approach insurmountable tasks: “Like a cat eating a grindstone,” she always says. “One itty bitty bite at a time.” Which is how she’s able to walk into a ruined old house or a weedy, trash-filled mudhole, gather herself, and dive into the task, without wasting time feeling overwhelmed. And the time passes wonderfully in the weeding and planting. And the next thing you know, a miracle of rare device has risen. And you’ve found yourself enjoying yourself so much that you forgot to wait for the lushness to hurry up and get lush. And it will seem to have happened overnight. And behold, the loveliness:

And behold, the oceanic afternoons together, digging in. In the words of one of my mom’s heroes (from a recent commencement address):

“At the end of your lives, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent.”

I will never regret a single moment spent in the garden with Mom.

Related post: A Late-Blooming Gardener

17 thoughts on “On Moms, and Time Well Spent

  1. Beautiful piece of writing and the pictures are fabulous. Happy Mother’s Day to Mom Green. Love, C

  2. This is just lovely. I think I’ll have to paint ‘Dig wait repeat’ on the side of my garden shed! I started gardening with my Mum too, and my mum-in-law is also a wonderful gardener. It’s a lovely thing to share, isn’t it.

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