Seedpod of iris. What a perfect image for Mimi, the consummate gardener! How many gardens of hers have I helped dig, transplant; watched her preside over; shared the bounty from; commented on the design for . . . In Andover, her garden wound around drive and home; in Bedford, it sprawled layer upon layer uphill and down; in Durham, it winds around the house in ever-widening circles. There is always more garden for her nurturing hands. Hands that made a life from the land; that sewed, preserved, crafted and played. Strong sure capable hands that held a cup of tea or tossed a fresh salad, stroked any one of a number of stray cats and dogs who counted her friend and benefactress. Returning at mid-life for her PhD in music; always teaching, playing, her life and loves spun out from, within and around her bowing arm and fingered notes.
Only recently have I named her ‘mentor.’ Even though she taught me piano and viola starting in third grade; though I lived with her to care for her two young daughters and help restore their newly-purchased old Cape; though I repeatedly sought her ear for confidences and advice unavailable at home; though she remains the only living adult from my tumultuous early days; though she modeled strength of character, unflappable balance, excellent boundaries and sound decision-making… Despite all this and more I could tell from the sixty years of our knowing one another, I never named her ‘mentor’ though mentor she clearly has been.
Unlike me, she was never given to sentimentality or self-pity. I remember her very matter of fact recounting of her third child’s miscarriage. How the fetus arrived one afternoon, how she calmly cleaned up and went about her day. I was in high school. I should have been honored that she spoke to me as an adult who understood the challenges of an empty marriage; her relief at not bringing an unwanted child into the world; her conviction that two is the ecologically and morally correct number of children to birth. I learned a lot about her that day. And over the years, about myself as well.
Like this pod, she carried all those seeds – seeds that created lush window boxes in south-facing windows, stained chairs, collected Italian pottery; penned notes on the margins of student music books. Pragmatic to a fault, welcome and warm, I still imagine her soft brown eyes under finger-made curls and thick bangs, her dark hair a thickness of sweep and puff around her face. Gray now, she has simply matured with the fullness of time as does any well-planted life.
Across the years I have carried Mimi’s wisdom, just as this pod does its seeds. She has diminished in physical size, downsized her life, her small family gown through laughter, adoption, adventure, true grit. Yet her legacy to me has grown and multiplied like the many gardens sown from her hands and that I have, in turn, learned to nurture.
* * *
Sarah W. Bartlett, is a published poet and essayist. As writing coach and group facilitator, she midwifes women’s stories, especially those at the margins. Sarah celebrates what is true within each of us as compass and guide, inspired by the Vermont mountains and Massachusetts shore where she lives with partner and pets. www.sarahwbartlett.com
Cover image credit: ‘Yellow Flag Iris – Seed Pods‘ by Chris Corney