The Gardener

Posted: April 10, 2011 in Life
Tags: ,

You need to understand:  she would not have approved this post.  It wasn’t her style.  She was not a braggart – about herself or any of her kids.  She preferred actions to speak for themselves.

She’s not here to stop me.   And it’s a post I’ve wanted to write for quite some time – since 2004 actually.

We only know bits of her childhood from what’s come out in passing.  We knew she was a little heavy as a child.  She lost the fat once she hit her teens.  Apparently she was an amazing baseball player.  She mentioned that she was always late for her games, so she had to scramble and ride her bike, often arriving covered in sweat.  It was said that she was an awesome figure skater too.

She was a devout Catholic and made sure her kids were washed and dressed and out the door every Sunday morning.  Sometimes she allowed them to attend the Saturday night mass.   She smiled to herself as she watched her brood all go through the requisite Catholic rituals:  First Communion, where the girls dressed in little wedding gowns, and the boys dressed in little dark suits, hair all slicked back;  then Confirmation, at which both girls and boys dressed in wine-coloured robes.   Her kids all remembered the heady smell of incense, and the dry drone of the old priest as he mumbled seemingly magical incantations over them all.

Not much is known of her interactions with her parents.   Her father was a happy drunk, which her mother tolerated with exasperation.   Psychiatrists and psychologists theorize that quite often, we marry people who are just like the person with whom we had the most conflict as children, in a vain attempt to “fix” that broken relationship.  “Maybe” they figure “if you marry someone like your dad or mom, and make a successful relationship out of it, you’ll realize you weren’t quite the failure you thought you were.”  Validation.


Anyway, the woman married someone who turned out to be a drunk.   We know he was much worse than her father though.  This particular drunk was angry, even when sober.  When he drank, he become a monster.  He often bellowed in rage at the least little thing.  Her kids recall many times when the bellowing stopped, and they could hear the scuffling sounds of him trying desperately to hit her.  He succeeded more often than not.

Her father died.  I guess she must have caught her husband at a time when he was in a good mood and not drinking, because for some reason he agreed to let her mom live with them.  Things were OK for a while.  The angry drunk times lessened for a time, and the beatings ceased.  We all know what familiarity breeds though, and this family was no different.  Eventually, the man’s true colours came out, and the dreaded nights of roaring and beatings began again.  This time, her mother tried many times to intervene – she yelled at him, and stepped between him and her daughter when he raised his fist.  More often than not, this caused him to stop.  At other times he shoved her out of the way and managed to land one or two good ones.

She suffered from migraines and so there were times when he saw an opportunity – it was those times he chose to hit her hard on the head.  There was a time when she was pregnant and he hit her in the stomach.

During all of these years, she managed to raise her kids.  She taught them all to do their best in school, and to be respectful.  She taught them humility.  She didn’t want to hear anyone boasting.  She taught them to survive their father, her husband.  She taught them to behave quietly, to not set him off.  They learned.  It was only later in life that they understood that abusive drunks will find excuses to lash out.  It doesn’t matter how well-behaved their spouses or kids are – there will always be a reason to be angry, and to hit them.

Her kids excelled at life, at social interactions, and in their schoolwork.   She never praised them directly, preferring instead to tell them what others said of them, how they were the most well-behaved, pleasant kids ever.  And they were.  They also developed a sense of humour, no doubt because of all of the drama.  She encouraged this, and laughed right along with them.   She made sure they expressed themselves.  She was all about openness, or so her kids thought.

One day, after the kids were grown and gone from the nest, the Beast died.  There was a palpable lightening of atmosphere in her house, now occupied only by her and her two cats.  Her six kids came around often.  Most of them did anyway.  The oldest boy didn’t visit as often as he could have –  a fact he often regrets.

They had all grown into respectable successful adults, a fact all of them attribute to her warm successful efforts at raising them during the midst of strife and upset.  She was happy about this.  Quite often she could be found dancing in her living room, her and her cats.  The fear was gone.  The anxiety was a thing of the past.  She lived about seven years with this newfound joy in life.  Her brother and in-laws often complained that she was never at home – she was apparently on the road all the time, visiting people, making the rounds.   Her oldest son couldn’t have been happier for her.

One day, she went to see the doctor about a pain in her leg.

Funny thing about cancer – the first symptoms show up in the oddest of places.  It wasn’t until about three months later that doctors discovered she was riddled with it.  Her lungs especially.   Her fierce independence asserted itself, and she was adamant that she would not go into a nursing home.  So her kids took turns staying with her, making sure she took all of her medication.  When the oldest son stayed with her, he noted that she often complained about being cold.  Not surprising, as she was all of ninety pounds to begin with.

During these final few weeks, she made a point of giving gifts to all of her kids – things she had wanted to give them, but knew had to be given long before their birthdays.  She seemed to have recognized an element in her oldest boy that he was just discovering, and gifted him with a warm blanket with an amazing picture of a wolf.

There were hospital visits.  She took to a wheelchair, an oxygen tank as her constant companion.  During her final hospital stay, some of her kids managed to smuggle her cats into her private room.  During all of the pain, this particular act brought the only smile to her face, if only for a short time.

She lasted about seven months, from first doctor visit to the morning she died.

It was only after she died that her kids realized that she hadn’t shared all of her life with them.  The woman had some thoughts she kept to herself.  They were so used to seeing her as “mom” that it never occurred to her that she was a woman with facets that didn’t necessarily include her family.  They found an old calendar from the year when her mother died.   Scrawled across the month were the words “Mom, why did you leave me?”   The pain she must have had at her mother’s passing was heart-breaking.

Her oldest boy provided the only final gift he could give her, and it was read at her funeral, seven years ago.  I wrote a poem for her, entitled

The Gardener

Through mists of rain and clump of thunder

Gasps of wind, midst whipping branches

Small group of seedlings cower low

Aware of nothing, with blinding future

A hand scoops down, grasping her prodigies

Almost motionless, with musical flourish

Looks fruitlessly for soil, unblemished and rich

Nettles abound, and dirt is scarce

Hands pricked and hurting, but children are planted

Nurtured and blessed, weeded and pruned

Plants flourish and grow, abundantly filled

With music and water, overflowing and fruitful

Her blossoms now strong, the gardener rises

Brushing her knees and wiping her face

Feet start to move, independent of thought

Nature’s music strums throughout the glade

And the gardener, the gardener

She dances

The sun overhead, beats rhythms with abandon

The gardener laughs, arms wide in delight

She moves through the thicket, the garden, the forest

Alive and aware, unfettered and strong

The sky darkens quickly and the music falters

The thorns of old now cripple her fingers

Her feet stomp angrily, but lose their focus

She lies down on the loam, while she catches her breath

Her heart beats slower, yet the music remains

Background only, nearly inaudible

Nature’s drums thrum softly

The work not yet done

A greater gardener scoops low

And gathers this jewel

With a smile on His face

He moves to His field

And plants her anew

Midst blossoms well loved

Her dream now renewed

More free than she imagined

She dances with Him

With her mother and brothers

Not chained to the sunlight

Dancing day, dancing night

Joy in her face

Laughter in her limbs

Gentle the gardener

She dances, she dances

  1. momma fargo says:

    GREat tribute. Very sorry for your loss.


  2. I tried to write a note before, but it didn’t show up? Hmmm… I’ll try again — all I said was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.


    • wolfshades says:

      Thanks Carmen.

      WordPress has a great spam filter but on the rare occasion it gets it wrong. Your original note was caught in it. I would have freed it eventually of course – I always check the filter for such anomalies before deleting them. :)


  3. Dave says:


    Your writing talents are too good to ignore. I won’t comment on your topic material as that should be your own choice. Obviously, it reaches out to many or you wouldn’t be receiving commentary from 2500 miles away. The world awaits. Keep it up.


    • wolfshades says:

      Thanks very much for your uplifting comment, Dave. I appreciate it.

      Funny thing: I purchased a Macbook Air, expressly to allow for the continuing of my novel when not at home. Even wrote a few chapters more. Decided it didn’t have a big enough screen, so took it back for a refund, after first wiping the flash drive and re-installing the OS.

      While waiting for the install to complete, I realized I hadn’t backed up my new work. *thunk*

      Oh well. :)


  4. Beautiful – made me cry *still crying*

    Mothers keep so much of themselves from their children and often children just don’t think to look for something more – I have experienced this close up both from losing someone special to me and from my own children.

    You did a very good job of capturing these precious moments.



    • wolfshades says:

      Thanks so much, M.L.! I think I was a little shocked to realize there was a whole person I didn’t really know. Too bad she left us so early – I would have loved to have gotten to know her better.


  5. Abe's Blog says:

    This post brought tears to my eyes. Beautiful.


  6. I’m touched deeply by this tribute to your Mom. She must have been a strong woman. To have known her on a level other than Mother would be difficult because she was, above all, a Mother. But, I suspect she handled all areas in her life with the same strength and resolution as you have described. The poem is lovely. I think this is the first time I have seen you write poetry. But, then, I have missed a lot of your blogs and I don’t know why… But, I’m happy to read you here today.


    • wolfshades says:

      Thank you Darlene for your heartfelt comment. She was a strong woman, for sure. She had to be, to put up with everything she went through, while still managing to raise six kids.

      I don’t usually write poetry, at least not for public consumption. Sometimes though straight prose just won’t cut it – as was the case when it came time to say something at her funeral.


  7. izziedarling says:

    God bless you, Wolf. Your mom raised a fine man.


    • wolfshades says:

      Thanks Izzie. :) I know she did her very best – that’s for sure. And she made sure none of the six in her brood ever felt favoured over the others – quite a feat in itself.


  8. izziedarling says:

    Believe it!


  9. Renee Davies says:

    Who can read this without crying? Not me. Your mom is an inspiration of courage and love. Your prose and verse are true talents.


    • wolfshades says:

      Thank you so much Renee. I know what you mean about the weeping, believe me. :)

      She was a wonderful woman, and I miss her, especially on days like today.


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