MY MOTHER & THE MARIGOLDS

by Cathy Arden on November 28, 2012

I’m watching Japanese men harvesting wasabi on the only English TV channel in my short term rental apartment in Paris. As I eat my homemade Croque Monsieur, the men are tending the paddies, wading into muddy waters in their high black boots. It reminds me of my mother tending her garden at her house in East Hampton so many years ago. But you know what so many years ago feels like. It feels like no time at all.

It was always surprising to me that my mother, a businesswoman, knew about planting vegetable gardens. I don’t know how she learned this. Her mother, a Russian immigrant, died from TB when my mother was 12 years old. My mother only remembered her as being ill & spending months at a time at what was then called a sanatorium. This is where they sent people with TB. The point here is that my maternal grandmother never tended a garden, at least not during my mother’s lifetime.

But my mother created a vegetable garden soon after she & my stepfather bought their house in East Hampton. My mother also helped me create a vegetable garden at my first house in Nyack, NY. But I never tended to it without her. My mother & stepfather would come up from the city on most weekends to spend time with me and their grandchildren, & during the summers my mother would plant & weed the garden. My garden really wasn’t my garden at all. It was my mother’s garden. I didn’t do much except pull the vegetables from the ground or stems when they were ready for eating. My mother and I both kept up the pretense that I had a garden of my own, just like the one she had once had in East Hampton. The East Hampton house had been sold decades before I lived in Nyack. So my mother’s original garden was long gone. And now I watch these Japanese men & I remember my mother in her rubber boots, in the prime of her life, sometimes still wearing her tennis skirt, bent over in the garden, her hands covered in green gardening gloves, pulling out new weeds that had managed to grow in spite of the carefully placed, brightly colored marigolds.

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