Tending the Garden (by Marybeth)

Summary:  Gardening is about more than vegetables.
Category:  Non-fiction
Genre:  Memoir
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  870



The garden catalogs spill all around us on the floor as we pour through them and argue over the choices made. Many of the catalogs are replete with gorgeous pictures of mouth-watering displays of beets and broccoli, turnips and pumpkins, snapdragons and zinnias.  Brendan wants potatoes, lots and lots of potatoes, while Emma Rose begs for a garden full of every kind of carrot she can find. Chengming and Shen Bo both agree on peas and I remember laughing, last spring, at their antics as they shredded the defenseless bushes of all the peas, down to the tiniest pods. Sara and Austin want corn, rows of tall corn. John has little use for vegetables but his opinion is just as loud. “Lots of sunflowers! Lots of them!”

Only Yuanjun is quiet. I have written much of this son in the past year. Yuanjun has struggled more than his siblings. For months after he left China, he grieved for his orphanage friends, for his Abu, and for a distantly recalled family-a little brother, a grandfather, and a mother in the army. He came to this country only to undergo serious surgery and months in a wheelchair. In casts to his hips, he was restrained through a long winter and spring. Left out of the noisy games his siblings played out of doors, he had more time to ponder, more time to reflect. Sometimes he was angry, and would demand, arms folded, chin jutting out, to be taken home. And by home, he meant China. Worse yet, sometimes he would just weep. Great gulping sobs or silent tracks of tears-either way, both of our pain was immense.

But slowly, slowly, as his legs healed, so did his heart. He would speak more of his memories of China. Of faces half-remembered, of songs and sounds, and smells. The sharp scent of the dried fish his grandfather would buy him in the market, the sweet odor of the sticky buns he shared with his baby brother, the musty boyish smell of his orphan friends as they wrestled on the hard floor of their rooms. “Like John and Shen Bo,” he would explain to me. “After we’ve arm wrestled all day. Bad, but good, you know?”

Last summer his casts came off and he learned to walk for the first time. Slowly, across the damp grass of morning, then running by the time the first leaves of autumn were falling. That summer, only Yuanjun had the patience to help me in the large gardens I tended. We used to joke, my husband, and I. ” Only Yuanjun loves the food enough to help its growing.” And “Gardening is the only chore that lets him eat as he works.” Teasing comments, but only to each other. For we both knew the truth. The garden, as he tended it, was healing Yuanjun, just as he protected the seedlings, so it gave him solace.

These days, Yuanjun likes to remind me of his earlier grief. “Remember how I cried when I came here?” He watches my face. “Remember how I was going to move back to China?” I nod, not trusting my voice. His pain, those days, was so raw, so powerful-I could weep myself when I touch those memories. But now he is in my lap, competing with the others for my attention and shaking an order form in my face. “What was that plant I was so good at growing?” He shouts in my ear. “The one that was green, than red?”

And a memory comes back unbidden, a memory of last summer. Yuanjun touching, with wonder, the delicate fruits of his first tomato plant. The Northwest summer had been a rainy one and most of the other tomato plants had been subsumed by blight, by rot, and by the heavy rains that knocked them into the dirt. Only Yuanjun’s carefully protected, and tended, had born fruit. I remember him biting into the first sweet tomato, how it dribbled down his chin, and how he laughed in delight. Then he pulled my head down and offered me a bite of his tomato and patted my cheek when I cried.

Yuanjun was a wary seedling when he came to our family. With time and with love, he has found his strength; he has found his new family. Looking at this robust boy on my lap today, you would not have recognized the fearful, sad child that first arrived here eighteen months ago. His courage and our faith have born fruit. May I one day have his grace to survive grief and his strength as he grew toward us, his new

I grab the order form from Brendan “Lots of tomatoes,” I announce. “And all sorts of potatoes, carrots, peas, and sunflowers! This is going to be the best garden we’ve ever had!” Yuanjun nods his head as we scribble down all the shouted orders. Later, my husband gasps when he spies our long list. He holds up a sheet almost two feet long, all filled with our order. I put my hands up in supplication. “Don’t ask,” I tell him laughing, “Don’t even ask.”



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