In 2008, a few weeks before I started this garden blog, I posted the below letter from an 11 year old reader in my newspaper column. Today our economy is struggling as much as it was then and I have a 10 year old daughter which makes me feel particularly connected to this little girl. When I reread this recently I realized I had to post it here to remind my readers about what a garden can really mean to a child.
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Dear Casual Gardener,
This year so many things have changed at my house. I am eleven years old and my parents went bankrupt. They have foreclosed on our home. We are moving into an apartment, we are all okay, but life is going to be different. We will no longer have a garden or a yard and I will miss playing in it. I am thankful this year that my family is still together, but I am sad that I will not be able to play in my yard or pick tomatoes from our garden any more. I wanted to know what you are thankful for?
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My heart goes out to you Michelle, and I think I might understand a little about how you feel right now. When I was a young girl I lived on a farm. It was a beautiful place. During the spring the farm was filled with nesting barn swallows, a swing set, and pink peonies.
Living on the farm meant learning to work hard and to take care of nature. During the summer the farm was filled with tomatoes from my grandmother’s garden, fields of wheat that stretched as far as my eye could see, and pastures with cows lowing in the early morning.
Most days I lived in the country with no concern for the busy, fast-paced world that lived outside of my insular existence. During the winter the farm was filled with sparkling, diamond-like snow resting on silent, frozen, plowed fields; mud and soil churned into unmoving waves.
Then one cold winter my father died. It was one of those losses that will not be easily forgotten by a twelve year old girl. He died a painful and torturous death from pancreatic cancer. I was one of the last people on earth he recognized before he went to that great sleep, and I remember thinking at the time that I would never smile again and perhaps never view another season on the farm the way I always had. Looking at my father’s face in death, I realized that once you have seen a terrible tragedy, you will forever see the world in a different light.
Time passed and I grew into a young woman and moved away from that farm to find my future in the big city; a concrete world filled with cars, tall buildings, police sirens, and gray, dingy scenery. I missed the slow pace and the country-drawl of my memories. My thoughts often wandered to the sweet smell of the corn fields in summer and the wind drifting through the trees next to the back pasture. I smiled when I thought of climbing fences and trees.
You see, Michelle, life is not always perfect and is often filled with both the good and the bad. My father knew that, and his gift to me was to have me grow up running through pastures, playing in creeks, climbing trees, and living in nature. Your family has also been able to experience something special – living in a house with a yard and garden. Picking tomatoes and sharing time with your family is an extraordinary gift that your parents gave you. That garden will always be in your memories, just like my farm will always be with me.
This is not the end for you, there is so much more in your future to look forward to. For now, try to experience gardening and nature through friends that might be able to share with you – please come to my garden any time you like. Your parents will find a way to buy another house in the future, and if they cannot, hold the memory tight in your arms and help it motivate you to bring nature to your family when you become an adult.
What am I thankful for? I am thankful for my father’s choice to raise me where nature smiled on me (see photo at left of me with my grandparents on the family farm when I was a little girl), and I am particularly thankful for special people like you who remind me what is really important in life – family and friends and a garden in nature.