Tootsie's Prescription for Life

Tootsie, my husband’s grandmother who died at the ripe old age of 95, was of sound mind and remarkably sound body when she finally met her end through an accidental fall and resulting head injury. A masterful storyteller, she delighted me with her repertoire of tales, anecdotes about ordinary things, which she told in extraordinary fashion. One of my favorites was the narrative she related about the time in her life when she plummeted into a deep depression. She had given birth to several children in rather close sequence, and consequently her body, soul, and mind were no longer in sync with each other. She existed in a state of dark brooding where life either lost its rhythm, or she no longer cared to march to its tune. She went to see the local general practitioner. She was desperate. After all, she had all those babies to care for, a household to run, a husband to love and cherish. She could do none of that, and she hoped the doctor could get her back on track.

After examining her carefully, the sage old physician wrote something on a pad of paper, handed it to her, and told her to carefully follow the directions of his prescription. When she read what he’d written, she looked at him, confused and a bit disappointed. He hadn’t prescribed any medicine at all. He hadn’t advised consultation with a specialist in nervous disorders. He hadn’t even suggested a change in diet. Was he really serious about this course of action?
Dead serious, he assured her. “Just do what I said. Go home and plow up a patch of ground. Plant a variety of vegetables. Make sure to include a few rows of colorful flowers. Weed the garden regularly; water it; watch it grow. Fold your clothes in the fresh outdoors. Shell the peas and snap the beans in a sunny spot of the yard. Rock your babies in the shade of the trees. Do as much as you can under the open skies.”
Tootsie did as she was told. With the help of Pashoon, a grizzled old gentleman who was a seasoned gardener, she began what was to become a lifetime of interacting with the good loamy earth. Before she knew it, she was admiring the beautiful symmetry of the rows, neatly turned and newly impregnated with seed. “Pretty soon after that,” she reminisced, “ I couldn’t remember what I was depressed about. I didn’t know what had made me so sad. I didn’t have time for all that foolishness anyway. I was too busy watching the kids and the garden grow.”
As Tootsie neared the end of her life, her children often scolded her for pottering in the garden. “Mama, you’ll get a heart attack whacking away at that dry ground with your hoe. Mama, you’ll slice your foot open with that shovel.”
But she wouldn’t listen. Cultivating life had become an integral part of her blood, something that had regenerated her all those decades before when life had shriveled to a bloodless, ghastly charade. She continued to wield the hoe, to pull the weeds, to train the vines to climb the poles, to snip the suckers from the tomatoes. It was all part of the rhythm, part of the cycle. To the very end, she marched in tune to the beat of life, her vintage prescription still working its magic long after the ink had faded away.

Tootsie's Prescription for Life

Bonnie T.  Barry

Sunset, United States

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