The meaning of "garden"


Sarah Jane McCoy, circa 1930, the McCoy Bottom

According to my belated mother, Granny assigned her to cooking family dinners at age eleven. “Everything we ate was from our garden, except flour and sugar,” Mom would say.  

Her four younger brothers were almost grown men when they drove Grandpa’s buggy over the mountain into Pikeville, the closest city in Kentucky where they purchased staples. There, the McCoy boys first encountered rice.

Back home, while Granny traded with customers in her mercantile, her sons used every pot in the new homeplace with buckets of water to contain the swelling grain and finish what they started. The hogs consumed a good portion of their predicament, saving my uncles from their mother’s wrath over wasted food.

For centuries in Appalachia, if you couldn’t eat it, you didn’t need it. Great-granny Elizabeth’s calla lilies prevailed before the old homeplace only because the perennial red flowers asked nothing of anyone but admiration.

Years later in 1954, after my parents moved our household from the McCoy Bottom to Detroit, imagine our surprise when Mom found pink hollyhocks blooming in the backyard’s alley. She offered my sisters and me toothpicks to make ballerinas of the blossoms and buds.

The luxurious landscapes of our next rental house seemed like Paradise. Rocks painted white circled a large peach tree with tulips of all colors wide open beneath.

I know this because my father considered the sight so delightful he took home movies, a family treasure. Mom sits on the mowed grass in a dress weeding while my sisters and I play hide-n-seek amongst the floribunda. Perhaps this idyllic place inspired our mother to later try her hand with raising roses.

Yet, food came first when we moved into our new, little house Dad mortgaged with aid of the G.I. Bill. Mom grew her favorite stringed beans and tomatoes in the backyard while Dad sowed grass seed and later watered with a hose.

Mom added a maple tree to shade two bedrooms facing east. A fair-skinned woman, I don’t know how she endured the scorching summer days hanging clothes in a subdivision without one leafing tree.

A divorcee at age 52, my mother returned to Kentucky and built her dream home between the new homeplace and where her Granny Elizabeth’s calla lilies once flourished. Mom planted every southern vegetable imaginable including green apple trees similar to those I climbed with my sisters and cousins when we were youngsters.  

Next, Mom ordered tulip bulbs, roses, boxwood. A weeping cherry tree for the front yard. Pink hollyhocks for the back door in plain view from her bean-stringing chair.

After Granny passed, Mom inherited the framed photograph of her younger and departed sister Sarah Jane. Three years old, Sarah poses with a fan before Great-granny’s calla lilies.

Dear Reader, whenever I said to Mom, “I’ve been working in my garden,” I meant flowers while she thought beans and corn.

“Why, I didn’t know you grew a garden,” she’d reply.  

The root to Mom’s utilitarian meaning of the word ran deep and wide.


Mitty (L) and Cuddles (R) watch a male robin defend his territory

The season of the red-breasted robin calls our curiosity to the dining room window with a crash against the glass.

The bird’s instinct to protect his territory causes such bizarre behavior. He thinks his reflection is his foe. And his show’s running on two weeks now.

Mitty and Cuddles sit captivated before the window with whiskers upward, tail curling at the tip. Their carnivorous instinct sees a bird under their paw.

Poor kitties. At the sound of a hit, they run to the window and watch as long as the bird persists.

For several previous springtides, cardinal males dominated the upper branches of the same white pine. Meaning, for weeks the cardinal fought his reflection in the bedroom window upstairs. Now, the male robin claims the lower branches for his family’s nest.

                Mitty’s patience astounds me, watching the robin without a blink. Cuddles is the first to capitulate and take a long nap. It’s less effort to dream about catching a bird.

                I’m with Cuddles in one respect: the robin show is old.

I’d rather be outside weeding, planting, pruning, and spraying fruit trees. Tracing birdcalls and songs to bluebird boxes and fen.

Burning piles of yard waste to tidy up the back forty. Planting another magnolia tree to accompany my Mother’s Day magnolia from last year.  

And yes, the gratification of green garlic stems poking through oak leaves contrasts with woodpecker and carpenter bee damage done to the pavilion’s soffit.

There’s always something to do, and I’m glad of it.

For I remember the unsettled years of 1970 to 1975. Mel and I wandered with our two babies to rentals in Bay City, Rosebush, Clawson, Westland, and Warren before we purchased our first home in Berkley.

Never did I think of pulling one weed, planting a flower, or harvesting a basket full of homegrown asparagus until we moved into our little bungalow on Cummings Street.

There, our little backyard called my name. Changed my life.

That’s where I met Burt on the south side of our fence, Bud on the opposite, and their impeccable landscapes. Burt spent one summer tapping white bricks into a meticulous border along his prolific rose garden.

Tap, tap, tap, while my girls played in the sandbox, swung on the swing, and swam in the swimming pool.

Inspired by Burt’s roses and Bud’s vegetables, I mail-ordered one bare-root Tropicana hybrid tea and asparagus crowns from Jackson & Perkins. While waiting for their arrival, per directions on the morning glory seed package, I ran a serrated knife across the seeds and soaked them twenty-four hours before planting.  

My goodness! What fertile earth! Those blue morning glories draped the fence we shared with Bud.

“Berkley was once a bog,” he said one day over the fence. “We can grow anything.”

Dear Reader, I remember the asparagus ferns taller than Burt, the tangy scent of my Tropicana rose, her slips my neighbors took home to propagate under a quart canning jar.

I remember their instinct to grow.

April synonyms


Becky and Kelly Underwood Easter 1976

April is synonymous with birdsong­: pregnant robins who proudly carry the title of our State Bird. There’s nothing sweeter than waking before dawn to a cheerful chorus of red-breasted mothers-to-be.

             I related to their song this morning when a plump robin landed on a limb outside my study window. Wednesday, April 5, 1975, the morning I waddled into Crittenton Hospital in Rochester, came to mind.

Three weeks overdue with my second child, Dr. Johnson decided to induce labor. Since our family lived forty-five minutes south from the hospital, I agreed and packed for the night. Devoted to my first attempt with natural childbirth, Mel and I dropped off Rebecca, our four-year old daughter, with a sister in Troy.

              In 1970, the obstetrician who assisted in Rebecca’s birth ordered Twilight Sleep during my labor. She consequently preferred sleeping to nursing. Engorgement ensued, the first of many obstacles that foiled my commitment to breastfeed.

Second time around, older and wiser, I listened when a friend recommended Dr. Johnson and his OB-GYN team who offered Lamaze classes to their patients and husbands. What hooked Mel was the steak and lobster dinner the hospital staff served the father and mother before they left for home with their baby.

The Lamaze movement connected me to La Leche League, an international organization that advocates for breastfeeding mothers. The local group sustained a hotline and monthly meetings hosted in members’ residences.  

Rebecca, who chose the name Becky in kindergarten, enjoyed my Lamaze breathing exercises. She’d sit before me and close her eyes while I breathed into her face.

On our short drive from my sister’s house to the hospital, I asked Mel, “If it’s a girl, what do you want to name her?”

“Not another Bible name,” he said.

“You don’t like the sound of Rebecca and Rachel?”


Considering my Irish roots, I asked, “What about the name Kelly?”


I delivered Kelly that afternoon without sedatives. She nursed vigorously on the delivery table.

My husband suggested Elizabeth for Kelly’s middle name. Obviously, he didn’t recall the New Testament reference to John the Baptist’s mother.

That night, one of April’s ice storms blew in. Alone in my postnatal room, I couldn’t sleep for joy and longing to unwrap Kelly Elizabeth for Rebecca Jane to touch. I ached for my children, husband, and bed.

The fresh April air.

Today, mother robins revive these desires, remind me not all fledglings survive when they leave the nest. No matter our diligent feeding and watch over them, many snares await the wing in its flight for independence.

On the eve of Kelly’s birth, although she’s 2,000 miles away, I see and feel her in my arms when I look out our windows, or walk our little farm and along Stoney Creek. For wherever there is a tree or shrub, the atmosphere teems with life and song.

Dear Reader, April is synonymous with birth, a tear fallen for tenderness lost. Rebecca’s hand ever reaching for Kelly’s, and never touching.

Many beautiful things

Lady in White Tea hosted by Connie (standing R)

Mitty jumped up on my bed this morning during my devotionals. Cuddles, Mitty’s sister, established this daily meeting when they were kittens. She aimed for my pen to chew on the cap which makes a scribbly mess in my journal. One morning several months ago, Mitty showed up on my bed instead for her turn to chew on my pen.

             It’s curious how the two cats respect the other’s alone-time with me and my puddle of books. It’s always the same: the cats rub their faces on the leather and paper bindings and covers. Most fascinating is the way they open their paws and pull the pen to their jaws. They’ll tire of my affection and lay against my legs for their first nap of the day. It is a beautiful thing to see a cat sleeping beside you.                

This morning, however, I could not linger. Of all blissful occasions, my friend Connie invited me to her home for tea.

Mind, Connie and her tea group take tea seriously, which means she sets a table with her unique personality and creative spirit. Of all possible ideas in her pretty little head, she decided to assign the “Lady in White” theme to today’s party.

“You can wear winter white,” she had complied.

This sent me to the basement yesterday to resurrect the most comfortable and outdated outfit on the planet. I.E., it resembles summer pajamas. Yet, the cream color met Connie’s criteria.

Spray starched and ironed, my clothing hung on the closet door as I roostered up. I packed my lavender lemon currant scones and cream and drove north to Connie’s home.

A sprinkling of purple crocuses greeted me and another guest who dressed in white lace from head to toe. I counted on my scones and cream to compensate for my poor excuse of a costume.

The lacy ladies in white arrived. The feast ensued. First course: Connie’s chicken-leek soup, scones, ambrosia salad. Second: egg salad and tuna salad sandwiches. Third: Quiche Lorraine with spinach.

To settle our food, Connie led us on a tour of her impeccably maintained vintage clothing collection spanning from her mother’s wedding gown, to her childhood Shirley Temple-like dress, to bell-bottoms.

Then she served dessert. Meringue drops and Seven Sisters Layer Cake. Giddy with sugar and caffeine, we posed for photos, another tea tradition upheld with hilarity.

Our hostess declined offers for help with dishes. “I have a dishwasher,” Connie said.

While driving home, I felt a letdown similar to after childbirth. I laid down on my bed before dinner, which I never do. Up jumped Mitty to snuggle.

Later, I recalled the beautiful things and ladies I met throughout the day, and the DVD a neighbor loaned me. Captivated from start to finish, I watched the exquisite documentary titled “Many Beautiful Things.”

Dear Reader, if you seek beauty, please watch this movie. I promise the story will open your spiritual eyes to meet beautiful things one by one, wholly and with joy.

Behold another risen season! The most beautiful of all things.

One man and seven women


When a series of three reading buddies recommend a book, I often buy it. However, several years ago, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2010), a New York Times bestseller by Eric Metaxas, came with concern. I don’t read horror, fiction or non-fiction.

And what could be more horrific than another graphic account of Hitler’s Third Reich seducing a nation into fascism while annihilating Europe’s Jews and their sympathizers by the millions? Weren’t The Diary of Anne Frank and The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom enough for me to comprehend the reach of tyranny’s cruelty and ruin?

“Trust me,” a friend said, “although tragic, Bonhoeffer tells an important, redemptive story relevant to us today. My husband and I read it to each other. That might help you make it to the end. You must finish the book.”

Having read and respected Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship (1937), I bought Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer upon my friend’s word. My husband and I read to one another until we reached mid-way its 542 pages.

“I need a break to read something lighter. I’ll finish Bonhoeffer later,” Mel said.

As I turned the pages to the end, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological convictions publicly responded to Germany’s gradual spiritual, moral, and social decline. ‘Only those who believe obey’ is what we say to that part of a believer’s soul which obeys, and ‘only those who obey believe’ is what we say to that part of the soul of the obedient which believes. If the first half of the proposition stands alone, the believer is exposed to the danger of cheap grace, which is another word for damnation. If the second half stands alone, the believer is exposed to the danger of salvation through works, which is also another word for damnation.

Bonhoeffer’s belief and obedience led him to the executioner’s gallows. Corrie ten Boom’s belief and obedience followed her Lord’s deliverance from evil through the gates of Ravensbrück concentration camp back to her home in Haarlem, Holland. Afterwards, Corrie began a lifelong ministry as a “tramp for the Lord’, speaking her testimony of forgiveness throughout the earth.

Within the bounty of God’s mercy, in the early 1970’s, Corrie ten Boom stood on the platform of Bethesda Missionary Church in Detroit. And there I sat amongst 2,000 people, moved that Corrie forgave the Nazi guards who beat and starved her and her sister Betsie, and millions of other women, men, and children.

Fifty-one years later, I’ve concluded Eric Metaxas’ book titled 7 Women (2015). Corrie ten Boom is listed in the cast with Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. All women who believed and obeyed, and obeyed and believed in the salvation of Jesus Christ, stood upon these first and second halves against oppression, and forgave their enemy.

Dear Reader, when we are tested, let us remember this great cloud of witnesses. Let us stand. Believe and obey. Obey and believe.

By the way, Mel finished Bonhoeffer.