Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ghost In My Garden

I wander through my new backyard, taking stock of the variety of flowers, plants and herbs that were left by the previous owner. I know that the woman who lived here before was quite the gardener-- the evidence is all around me. And yet, there is also evidence of things left undone, overgrown plants spilling over their borders, spindly shoots stretching in wild directions. Even an untrained eye can see that this garden needs tending, pruning, shaping, loving. The gardener, it seems, abandoned her duties long ago. And so I come to assess the damage, to make the repairs, to tend this garden.

I am unprepared and uneducated. A novice gardener at best.

Months go by. I am busy, overwhelmed, tired. The garden is still not tended, but fall has let me off the hook, assuaging my guilt as the fallen leaves cover the disarray. I wander out to the garden aimlessly, unsure of my purpose in this place. The light of day is fading as I stoop to pluck the rosemary that is still, amazingly, thriving. I inhale deeply of its woody, pungent scent and dream of roasted potatoes and chicken and focaccia bread eaten in a warm kitchen on a cold night. I am thinking of how I need to harvest this rosemary to freeze for winter dinners when I look up and see her further down the row, bent over the plants, mumbling to herself.

She has returned to tend her garden, an apparition in crocs and a floppy gardening hat.

"Hello," I call to her, but she does not acknowledge me. I walk closer and she turns to look at me, confused.

"Who are you?" she asks.

"This," I say, guiltily gesturing to the house, the yard, the garden, "Is mine." For a moment she looks flustered, even angry-- then a flash of recognition, then sadness, crosses her face. She looks away, down at the plants she once tended, the soil she once turned, the new life she once coaxed from the ground.

"Oh," is all she says.

I crouch down beside her, talking in what I hope is a low and comforting voice. "I know you needed to come back here, to make sure your plants are okay, that this place is being loved. I know this was once your home and I know you thought that you would have years and years to live here, to watch your children grow, to tend this garden." I pause, gauging her reaction. Have I gone too far? "I am sorry," I say, "That your time here got cut too short."

She nods, still looking down. I stand and turn to go, to leave her with some time alone in the garden, but her voice stops me. "Will you take care of my garden?" she asks shyly. "It's gotten into such a state. I never meant to leave it like this." She looks up at me hopefully and I see the woman she once was, not what she became after cancer ravaged her body and stole her from her husband and children.

Now it is my turn to nod, my turn to look away. "Promise me," she says, pleading. I look at the house she once loved, the place she used to call home, the place she brought her babies home to, the place that she ran to after she got a death sentence handed to her by a doctor in a cold impersonal office. It used to be hers, and now it is mine. Somehow that doesn't seem fair.

"I will care for it well," I promise her. "I will appreciate what I have. I will treasure every moment I get here because it is time you didn't have. I am sorry for your loss," I say. It is what people said to her husband and children as they stood helplessly in a funeral receiving line. It is what I must say to her now.

"Me too," she says. And when I look back at the garden, she is gone.

*This post was written for Scribbit's Write Away contest for this month. The theme this month is "ghosts." While this didn't actually happen to me (of course), I do live in a new house and the previous owner did die of cancer and was a gardener. I often wonder if she knows we are taking good care of the house-- and the garden-- she left behind.
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Lori said...

That was just beautiful, Marybeth. Sometimes I am in a hurry in the mornings reading blogs, but this one pulled me in and made me want to read it, really read it.

JottinMama said...

Wow! What a touching story. Beautiful, Marybeth. We recently bought our first home from a dear elderly couple. They had to move because the sweet husband had a stroke and cancer. Before we moved in, the former lady of the house gave me detailed instructions on how to tend the fruit trees and flowers. Her passion for what she was leaving behind was contagious. Your story reminds me of this darling couple and it encourages me to tend my new garden lovingly. And ohhh, it reminds me to be so thankful.

Thank you :)

Bonita said...

Oh my goodness, that's such a moving story and it really makes you stop and think. I live in a house that was someone else's dream home. She and her husband built it, raised their children here, held square dance functions here and he tended the big yard and gardens. Then he left her for another woman. She died on the inside and let the house go downhill. A few years after we bought it she died on the outside too. So sad.

Your post really adds perspective for me since I've never liked this house very well. I take it for granted, but to her it was everything and represented every dream she ever had. Thanks for helping me see things through other eyes.

This post has got to be a winner!

Cindy Swanson said...

That was beautiful,Marybeth...very compelling.

Scribbit said...

Oh I love the pairing of ghosts with the garden--gives it a unique and wonderful atmosphere.

One thing--I had a problem getting the post to produce the permalink, am I doing something wrong? I've got your main link but clicking on your title just pulls up your main URL.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post! I just gave me goosebumps - I know it was not "real", but it was so full of thoughtfulness. It was so vivid - I could "see" it happening as I was reading. Truly a great story.
I think it is a winner indeed!


Jess said...

Bravo, my friend.


Mom Can I? said...

Gave me chill's my friend!!!!

Melissa said...

What a beautiful post!! I remember when we were moving from our house in Pennsylvania. I was 12 years old. My Dad had planted so many beautiful gardens on our 2 acres. I asked him if he was sad to leave them. He told me that they were for the next people. Then he said something I have never forgotten. When you leave a place, you always leave it better than when you got there for the next person. I have tried to apply that to every area of my life.

Thank you for your beautiful story.


Shari Braendel said...

Call me naive, but I cried thru the whole thing thinking it was real. I pictured a little shrinking woman in your garden and you being so tender with her...THIS is why you should write are AMAZING at it. Love you friend....YOU WIN for sure!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. I love your voice. I'd love to read more like this. Often I skim. Today I lingered.

Miss Sandy said...

Hauntingly beautiful. We are all called to be caregivers of some sort, thank you, Marybeth, for being a tender of the soul, the deep rich soil in which you plant and nurture the seeds of faith. Your pencil is the spade with which you weed and the blossoms that you grow are that which we read. So you see, you ARE an avid gardener in God's chosen field for you, blooming profusely where you are planted.

Kelly said...

I loved this story, Marybeth!
I wanted to ask you too, do you know when your book about finances is coming out? I ordered your Christmas ebook last year and was looking at it again recently getting my mind towards the holidays and I thought about your book on finances and how relevant it will be now even more than ever!
Many blessings,

Tami said...

Great story, Marybeth! I loved the way you set the scene. Thanks for the info on the contest. I wrote my own short story and entered.

Have a blessed day! Tami

Renee Swope said...

I loved this too! One of my faves. I thought it was true the whole time til I got to the bottom. Powerful. You are a very gifted fiction writer, too!

Can't wait to read your first fiction book one day!


KelliGirl said...

What a great story. Powerful. Emotional. Engaging.
I love the way you write!

momanna98 said...

What an amazing story. Great job. Very sad.