Mum eagerly lead me outside the small flat where she was living at the time; we clambered down some stone steps and out to the small plot of earth that had been allocated to her. With the excitement of a child, she proudly pointed to a row of green flourishing runner beans, which she had planted and cultivated from seeds. The runner beans were producing a vigorous harvest – I hadn’t known at that time the extent of dedicated commitment required to grow those succulent green beans. It was years later that my sister explained how mum had spent hours digging and preparing the ground; she chipped away at the barren parched soil where clay, gravel and debris had compacted together. Mum was not admitting defeat as the sweat poured down her back during those hot summer days and the arid earth was lovingly transformed. Mum gave her heart to this small back garden and even cleared some space for a small square of grass to sit on – it was her way of transforming a bleak setting into a ‘Garden of Eden’ where she could sit on her small square of grass and feel in touch with the sky and the distant fields. She grew artichokes and tomatoes too! The elderly man in the flat below had never heard of artichokes and he called them ‘anchovies’. He kept saying to mum:
“Nobody has ever grown anything there before”
My sister recently explained how mum had dug the numerous stones from the ground and put them all in a sack – together they dragged the sack over to the edge of a field and emptied the grit and stones out. She carried bags and bags of top soil from the shops, all the way home and out into the developing garden.
I was twenty-nine years old and couldn’t yet fully identify with the driving force of optimism that compelled mum to breathe life into this tiny piece of neglected land. Now, as a more mature and ‘weather beaten’ individual, I feel the same compelling impulse to find hope, to create beauty and to radiate optimism in the face of challenge and adversity. I too find it wholly uplifting to produce a flourishing garden.
While living in Alaska during those harsh winter months, I eagerly awaited the weekend yard sales where I sought out limp, struggling and wilting flora in order to revive, renew and nurture them back to strength. My apartment became filled with healthy, green plant life, which ultimately gave me a sense of purpose and renewal. I felt a bond with my plants.
Mum had been through a tough time when an arsonist burnt down the house where she lived with my sister and young brother, in Topsham. After being re-located to an area that was particularly unsettling, she made the best out of a difficult situation and coped with her feelings of desolation by growing a garden. By touching the soul of the earth – she was embracing hope in her heart. By giving her love, tenderness, tears and courage to the earth, the bright spark of hope and warmth was given back to her, from the earth. I understand that now because like my mother, I can’t renounce hope, I can’t yield to a mistrust in life. I too have found that the healing action of gardening, writing and photography has not only inspired an awareness and a need to create beauty, but it’s also imparted a renewed hope; I cling to that sustenance. Without wishing to deny the existence of ‘dark clouds’ in our life’s journey, I’m determined not to be engulfed by them. Not many understood how mum fought to survive the heavy clouds of our collective and human challenges; she refused to succumb to the numbness that most people have yielded to. Yes – many have forfeited that intrinsic gift to respond with sensitivity to the capricious tide of our life’s journey. Many never recognized that brightly courageous cry of hope – even assuming that it came easily to my mother.
Mum’s tireless bond with hope was filled with action – it was alive, motivational, it was here and now and she openheartedly shared it. I’ve met people who express a limply feeble and self-orientated echo of hope without any determination or strength to back it up; I’ve seen people exhibit an oppressive verbalization, a thud of hope locked in the past with a weighty lack of enthusiasm to manifest action.
Mum’s demonstration of hope was packed with action, generosity and courage. Now in my late fifties, I am profoundly aware of this need to express hope in the form of action, it gives me a reason to breathe.
Mum’s runner beans are a symbol of optimism, a deepening love and a willingness to feel.
This is a chapter from my Book ‘A Medley of Reflections’
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Copyright protected Charmiene Maxwell-batten 2009. All Rights Reserved
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This is a narrative of hope. When my mother went through harsh and tough times even losing the roof over her head – she grew runner beans in a place that had never grown anything before. This gave her meaning and hope
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