She loved keeping a garden. In fact, she didn't have garden plots because she thought of every inch of her land as a garden to be tended. Going to my grandparents house was like entering a fairy-kingdom of flowers, grand old oaks, ivy, swings, arbors, and places to hide and play. Besides the stunning natural beauty of the flowering bushes, trees and plants that provided color in all four seasons, my grandmother had covered the yard in a whimsy of birdhouses, feeders, baths, statues, and hung all manner of objects from the tree trucks and low hanging limbs. There were colorful witch balls, wind chimes, and even some fountains ushering a child's heart right into a world of wonder and fantasy. It was beautiful, and peculiar, and it was home to me.
My grandmother began to forget her words about seven years ago. That is how it started; with forgetting. First her words, then her physical location, then people's names even began to allude her. The vines of her disease would creep across her mind, strangling memories and reason until she was just a shadow of who she once was. My grandfather, succumb to this sad evolution of aging, would chuckle ironically and say, "The house is falling apart like we are. I guess we will all go together."
Indeed, the house had seen better days. The magical garden was beginning to swallow everything. The wisteria and hummingbird vines were pulling apart the plaster and helping to flood the crawlspace. The ivy was choking the grand old trees, while the acorns were allowed to hatch and birth new saplings on anything with a thick enough layer of soil. It seemed that a curtain of flora had fallen over the property, quietly escorting my grandparents home into an awaiting grave.
This home and land was left for my husband and me to tend to now. We decided after inspections and long conversations (half dreaming, half dreading) that we would restore it to it's former, and hopefully, better self. The work has begun. With each new job and contractor has come a new revelation of rot, damage and repairs to be made. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed and don't even know where to begin. Other times we can't stop grinning at how beautiful it all is while we thank God for the opportunity to have a house and land given to us.
It was a nice day a week ago, so Joel and I went up with the baby and decided to thin out the saplings and trim back the hedges that were once bushes and small flowering plants. Sitting on the stoop nursing Noelle, I watched as Joel began pulling a hose out of the ivy along the side of the house. For 20 minutes he battled the tangle of vines and finally emerged sweaty, covered in dirt and scratches with 3 hoses in hand. "Great place to store hoses- in the ivy!" he burst sarcastically.
"She didn't store hoses in the ivy. When she laid them in that spot there wasn't any ivy there." I heard myself reply grimly. There were so many parallels here that made me think of her disease. I could not have even guessed that that lump in the overgrowth was a knot of hoses. Looking at my exhausted husband, I began to doubt this gift. We wanted to move in here in May and thought it would be much further along than it is by this point. Instead, each new day seemed to offer an extension of need and projects. We were constantly untangling some knot physically or metaphorically. For a moment, I couldn't feel it- the magic.
I closed my eyes and tried to remember what it used to look like in this part of the yard. There was grass, there was room to play. It wasn't all wildness and vines. It used to be beautiful. There were flowers and bird feeders, and picnics in the summer right in this spot.
Then I looked around. The tulip poplar was blooming and I could smell it's sweet perfume in the air. The sun was washing over my skin with a golden warmth that seemed to melt the frustrations of my heart. I could see myself here as a little girl again, swimming in a big tub of water, splashing and laughing as my grandparents smiled down on me. One of those old hoses had filled up my little pool.
This memory made me think about a book my mom read to me as a very young child, The Secret Garden. Remembering Mary's adventure finding the key to that garden and the slow untangling of it's former beauty made me feel energized and excited. As if I had just spotted new roots bursting from one of my grandmother's cuttings, suddenly the magic seem to bolster around me like a deep inhale. It is wick! It is still green inside. There is life here! This is like the Secret Garden. It started with a request, "Could I have a bit of earth?" and ended with total restoration and healing of a community and home.
I found myself picturing the rare boy, Dickon Sowerby, from that tale. Mary had complained that the weeding would never end, and his reply was simple:
"What has been left undone for years cannot be mended in weeks."
How true this is of everything.
The magic is simply that it can be mended. The magic gains life and force the more you pour into it. Healing takes time. Restoration takes commitment. "Before resurrection comes crucifixion," is what my Dad used to say. This is no secret even though we forget it often. This is truth and this is something my grandmother knew well. When you cut a twig from a tree, you give it everything you can, and then you wait and let it grow.
The magic is the presence of the enduring promise that if you believe, it will come true. And in believing, we continue to work hard to make it so. There is magic in absolutely everything. Today, I know the magic is in the work of waiting.