Shakespeare in the Garden

Feverfew and lavender bloom in companionship for healing amongst the steps and boulders
When I read Romeo and Juliet as a sophomore in high schoolI never guessed I’d develop a passion for growing flowers and herbs. A typical, oblivious teenager, I overlooked Shakespeare’s references to roses, garlic, and rosemary without the slightest care or understanding.
'Doth not rosemary and Romeo begin both with a letter?' asks Juliet's Nurse of Romeo, both of them being aware of the herb’s emblematic meaning of fidelity and love.
From that introduction to Shakespeare’s works to this fine day on the cusp of summer, William has waited patiently to capture my imagination with his pithy botanical putdowns as he did his Elizabethan and Jacobean England. At last I mature in what the Bard of Avon named the “fifth age of man.”
Well into this stage of “the justice”, I grow old with Shakespeare in my gardens; discover with delight his knowledge of the natural world and wisdom he drew from it. Scenes unfold from garden to garden as I weed peonies, cull runaway rudbeckia from their bed, and listen to the audio book of As You Like It.
This is an ideal environment to visualize Shakespeare’s plays and become familiar with his language and world. Although he never uses the words “flower” and “leaf”, the forest is vivid as my peonies, maples and pines, his trees a magical horticultural mix of Oak, Hawthorn, Palm-tree, and Olive.
I hear the theme of “nature heals” in this comedy of familial and romantic love. For Rosalind, the heroine, and everyone else who enter the Forest of Arden are better for it. I see Fortune and Nature often work at odds.
Fortune may bestow wealth, position, and power on a person by underserved means. However, if this person lacks the nature of nobility, foresight, courage, and compassion, they may mismanage their gift to their own ruin. Conversely, Nature may grant a bounty upon on a person whom Fortune has snubbed. This person will have the faculties to gain independence and wealth, albeit with work and struggle.                 
I left my hoe and lay down under a maple tree to stretch my back and ponder Will’s philosophy on Nature and Fortune. Praise to my lineage, mine is the gift of Nature. Like Shakespeare, my grandfather knew the healing properties of his native wildflowers, herbs, and trees.  Love and care for his land granted prosperity and food to his family and neighbors during the Great Depression.
           Mine is the love of family and gardens, a flower in every room with soft and deep shades of bloom to color gray and empty spaces. Mine is stacks of books, poetry waiting to speak sonnets, haiku, and villanelles.
Dear Reader, mine is the empty page wanting words of hope, faith, and love in all manner of literary devices. What a privilege to garden with the Master of letters, to carry the spirit of his words and world to your hands.

Author’s Note: In A Shakespearean Botanical, Margaret Willes cross-references each mention of a plant in Shakespeare's work with what his contemporaries would have known about plants. 

Amazing Grace of the Tipton Place

Mountain Laurel in bloom in the Great Smoky Mountains
Oh, what pleasure to leave our critters and land in good hands Memorial weekend to attend a family wedding, to behold young love.
                  My sweet niece and her beloved spoke their vows under Nashville’s sun and on the grounds of The Old School Farm. My four sisters and I gathered with our spouses from various parts of the south and Mid-west to witness this holy moment.
The assurance of my niece’s happiness mellows my heart and mind. Tori’s a reader and artist from childhood, danced in little red slippers at four-years old. Her husband’s a musician. You have to admire a young man who’s devoted to his accordion and guitar.
There’s a lingering charm from The Old School Farm and our travels within the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our first vacation alone in thirteen years, my husband and I didn’t want to depart the misty incense of the Great Smokies. A week of mountain watching wasn’t enough.
We wanted more trail time in hopes a black bear would cross our path again like a mother and cub did twenty years ago. Tennessee’s Cades Cove was where we found respite with our younger daughters after we buried our firstborn.
Dear Reader, it was bittersweet to return, to revisit the churches, cabins, and barns within the Cove. The valley’s cemeteries, footpaths, and rough-hewn buildings hold our sorrow with the loss of countless tourists and the European settlers who followed Indian hunters into the region in the early 1820’s.
There’s Murphy Charles Tipton who served in WWII and the Korean War then left for Glory at age 48. His predecessor, Charlotte Tipton Riddle, outlived him to 96. Little Neller, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Sam Tipton, was born June 1, 1906 to delight her parents two brief months. Neller’s small tombstone with a lamb resting atop is inscribed “Asleep in Jesus.”
I find consolation in this truth and recall my granny’s stories about her babies Thomas and Paul. They also left this world in their cradle. God willing, this August I’ll climb the Appalachian hill to the cemetery where they’re buried.
Unlike the Tipton Place, no signs or material structures of my ancestors’ humble, Old World culture of self-sustenance and faith remains. No church, cabins, barn, apple trees, fences, and water pump I remember from early childhood.
Only Uncle Herm and his daughter reside on the farmstead my mother’s grandparents settled in Kentucky’s McCoy Bottom. At age 84, Uncle Herm still grows a large garden and is one of two remaining uncles I’ll sit before this summer and hungrily collect family history.
                  Stories much like those once told in the old Tipton Place. Overnight wagon rides to town to buy and sell. How Grandpa built Granny’s church with wormy chestnut wood. The day Uncle Herm ran off and married the girl who stole his heart.
                  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that rises from cabins, barns, and piano keys in the mountains. The song of young love that settles in the gaps and hollows with blooming Mountain Laurel.

The Rowe Inn and Pot de Crème

The Rowe Inn's Pot de Crème garnished with Yule Love It Violas
Most Americans associate their favorite summer chocolate tradition with bonfires and S’mores. Not so with the Bob and Margaret Radtke family. They think of The Rowe Inn and Pot de Crème.
When my friend Sue was a young Radtke, her dad drove the family north through the “teeny” town of Ellsworth to Torch Lake for vacation and camp. Rowe Inn was one of two gourmet restaurants in town, and they happened to have Pot de Crème on their menu.
It was an instant love match, a matter of fate. An unabashed chocaholic, Bob Radtke was crestfallen when the waitress set before him a thimble sized glass with a few spoonsful of rich, thick chocolate cream.
Sue laughed with fond memory. "A charming man, Dad begged for more. Mom wasn’t the least embarrassed because we all loved dessert."
While Sue spent her childhood summers at the Four Way Girls Camp on Torch Lake, her dad sustained a friendship with The Rowe’s owner and often held business meetings during lunch. They served his Pot de Crème in an oversized mug inscribed For Bob.
More than fifty years later, Sue bragged so about her father’s favorite chocolate dessert that I asked for the recipe. You see, I’m also an unabashed chocaholic. With ceremony and nostalgia, Sue held the recipe before me. At the top of the hand-written card were the words, “Serve in a bucket to Mr. Radtke.”
My sentiments exactly, although it may induce a chocolate coma if you don’t consume it with respect. “Savor every bite,” Sue said. “Serve it room temperature with a dollop of whipping cream.”
I garnish my Pot de Crème with red raspberries or currants, jewels on the smooth, dark surface. Small, edible flowers like violets, violas, or the diminutive daisy-like feverfew please the eye as well as the palate. It’s a simple dessert to prepare and never fails.
Dear Reader, a cook who’s fond of a good story, particularly one that perpetuates chocolate bliss, whenever I serve Pot de Crème, I associate Sue’s father with the delicious confection. A man who raised a beautiful family, a daughter who became my dear friend and fellow, unabashed chocaholic.
By the way, The Rowe is alive and well in Ellsworth. I don’t see Pot de Crème on their website menu, but if you’re in the area, stop in and say “Bob Radtke sent me” and see what develops. 
Meanwhile, here’s the recipe, a simple, elegant compliment to any meal, occasion, or season. Heaven forbid I deprive my fellow chocaholics of this pure Michigan delight.
Rowe Inn Pot de Crème
4 squares unsweetened bitter chocolate
1-cup sugar
pinch of salt
Melt above ingredients on low heat in double boiler and blend.
Add 1-cup heavy whipping cream, 3 beaten egg yolks and 1-teaspoon vanilla
Whisk until well blended and creamy
Pour into serving glasses and serve at room temperature, or sip it while warm around a bonfire.

Where We Come From

Yule Love It's perennial island ablaze with poppies and peonies.
Well, it finally happened. A girlfriend once said she broke down and cried when it first happened to her. Me? I coached myself when I walked out of Macy’s, a bag in each hand. “Focus. You’ve always found your car.”
             This time, however, I forgot to make a mental note of the marker when I parked at the aisle’s end. No problem. After sitting all day in a remarkable writing conference, I was up for strolling the concrete maze filled with waiting automobiles.
The more I scanned the aisles with no sight of my car, the twinge of fear crept into my mind, Mom fading away with Alzheimer’s. Unfamiliar with the layout of parking levels, I became disoriented and at last kissed my pride good-bye.
“Excuse me, young man,” I said to a security officer. “I’ve lost my car.”
“Follow me.”
He exchanged some directions with another young man who sat at the wheel of a huge, shiny SUV.
“Do I just climb in?” I asked.
He cleaned the lenses to his eyeglasses and slid them on. “Sure.”
His casual attitude calmed my anxiety. “I can’t believe I’ve lost my car.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, ma’am. This happens all the time. It took me a week to learn the ins and outs.”
“So your job depends upon forgetful old ladies like me,” I said.
“And young ladies,” he replied with finesse.
We searched the third level with no success. “Which ramp did you enter?” he asked.
“The ramp to second level.”
“No wonder we can’t find your car. We’re on the third level.”
We struck up a conversation about his graduation from college and his future job with Ford in Communications and Marketing. His sister works for the company also. 
“Do I detect an accent?” I asked.
He smiled with a wrist relaxed over the steering wheel. “Polish. I came from Poland when I was twelve,” he said. “I’m going back next month to visit my family. It’s beautiful where I come from.”
I nodded, thought of Appalachia, my birthplace. “Several of my good friends are Polish and have returned home to visit.”
“Next month I’m taking my girlfriend to meet my family. She’s Mexican. Then, we’re going to Mexico so I can meet her family. It’s important we know where we come from and our traditions.”
We found my blue Prius in no time. I would’ve cried for joy if it hadn’t been for a call coming in on my cellphone. I thanked the young man from Poland, stepped down from his vehicle and took my call.
“Where are you, Iris? Do you have time to talk about the conference?”
“Diana! I’m at Somerset and just found my lost car. I’m so relieved!”
“I’ve done that before,” she consoled.
We celebrated Diana’s writing awards announced in Troy while she attended another writing conference in Chicago. We swapped highlights, names of old friends and new people we met, where they came from.

Dear Reader, I ask you, isn’t home the heart of all our stories?

P.S. Don't forget to mail your poetry submission for Yule Love It's poetry contest. See details on the Poetry Contest link.