A Bench for Tiffany

It’s snowing outside as I sit here in the warmth of the living room surrounded by my seeds, catalogs, layouts and notes of gardens past. It’s an annual tradition, one that I’ve had from my earliest days. Even when Charles and I lived in tiny cramped apartments and rarely had spare change, I always managed to find a community garden and pull together enough to have a little spot of land and a few seeds to plant and care for. I’ve always had the singular knowledge that there is nothing that tastes as good as a homegrown tomato or carrot.

The sensation of my fingers in the soil, the feel of the sun on my back, the sweat on my brow, the loosening tension of muscles at rest too long and the sounds of the outdoors around me brings a sense of order to my being and a completeness to my soul.

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that my garden is my sanctuary. Yes, sanctuary in everysense of the word. It is a place that I retreat to when I need to find calm, a sense of peace, when I need to mull over conversations or events in my life. It is also where traditions are practiced. Skills and knowledge are passed down to BW and JB. We have pictures of them from their earliest days playing in the soil beside me, with spades, claws and ‘diggerers’. It is also where Tiffany and I spent hours upon hours talking about life, sharing family history, crying, laughing and sweatin’.

It is impossible for me to enter ‘mama’s garden’ and not see the influence and impact of my sister.

The rock that covers the ground on the perimeter of the garden was moved on a hot summer’s day, and couldn’t have been done without her. The pavers that line the walkways of the garden were moved into place with her help. She kept me company as I dug each bed every spring; the heavy bags of manure were carried on her shoulders from the car to the beds. It was while in the garden that I came to terms with her death under a hot October sun while harvesting the raspberries she helped plant.
This last year’s garden was the first to be grown without her… and in fact, it was never completed. In the days that I was to plant my squash, prepare the garden and set the root crops I was instead saying goodbye to AunT, organizing a funeral and a memorial service so that others could remember her, celebrate her life and in their own way say goodbye.
My garden is not only my sanctuary; it is a reflection of how I am doing. Without having Tiffany by my side or on the phone, I simply did not have the energy or interest to work the soil or tend the plants. The garden was the visual display of my mourning for her.
The season ends in the fall, after several hard frosts have taken the harvest of summer’s splendor. It is hard, dirty, time consuming work that sets the stage for the next season. If the garden isn’t properly ‘put to bed’ the spring season will be filled with a great deal of weeding and preparation instead of working on improvements in other corners of the yard.
It was in the garden while cleaning up the bounty of fallen apples, covered with slime, mush and mud that I came to realize what it was that I wanted for Christmas.

Every Christmas Charles and I exchange a single gift. Something that we truly want but would never purchase for ourselves. Now that we are older and have small children, Christmas isn’t so much about us, it’s about them, so this single gift is usually all we receive and I can never thing of anything that I need or want. This year was no different.

While in the garden with Tiffany, I would move amongst the plants and she would sit on the hard wooden edges of the raised beds, which being so narrow were also uncomfortable. It was while raking and remembering the more poignant conversations with AunT, ‘seeing’ the memory of her sitting in the garden that I knew. In her memory I asked for and received a bench for my garden… A bench for Tiffany. A place to sit and relax, where someone, be it a child, a spouse, a friend or family member can watch and share while I work my fingers in the soil and reflect over the day’s events.

It now sits prominently, but properly in the garden as though it’s always been there. The children climb upon it as they used to climb on their aunt, and they are attracted to it as they were to her.

There, in the garden is a bench for Tiffany, and I now look forward to the spring.

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