My mother used to talk about her summer visits to her grandparents’ place, a tiny homestead in the hills of Buncombe County, NC. One summer when I was a young mother she took me there with my little boys.
As we zig-zagged over mountain roads, with Mom and my younger son shouting Whee! and my older son and me moaning Pass the dramamine, the green darkness deepened, the sky was lost to us, and I wondered if we’d ever be seen again by the loved ones we’d left behind.
But Mom knew where she was going, and there it was: a little house in a clearing. Not her grandparents’ house but the one that replaced it. A yard. A creek. An isolation that spoke of their long-ago poverty in the green thick of that beauty. Mom pointed excitedly — the ice house was still there, right on the creek where it belonged!
Then Mom pointed to a verdant emptiness across the road. That’s where the mill had stood. Her grandpa had been the local miller, and that’s where one of their little boys was killed in a terrible accident. As we drove away, she pointed again; I saw green overgrowth, but she saw the tomato patch where her grandpa’s body was found.
I didn’t see their mill, but I seemed to hear my great-grandmother cry. I never was sent to the ice house to get buttermilk, but I seemed to feel that cool sweaty jar. I didn’t see my great-grandpa’s overalls-shrouded body in the garden, but I know there are worse places to die.
As I wield my suburban trowel, I feel the presence of those people, their living and their dying, in the soil. I think we are not worlds apart, not here in the garden.