You can’t imagine the joy I felt when our package from Pinetree Seeds arrived in the mail yesterday. After nine years of being unable to play in the dirt, unable to nourish little plant lives, unable to share with my family the goodness of home grown vegetables and herbs, the little packets were like a breath of spring air to me. I shook each one gently, then carefully felt the outline of the little seeds within, imagining different ways they could fit into the spaces available in the yard. I also remembered my first real garden, in Liberty, New York, and my last one, in Ma’bar, Yemen.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we actually owned our big, three story house in Liberty. It had been foreclosed on, and was what was known as a “handyman’s special,” so we were able to buy it for an incredibly inexpensive price. It was a huge blessing for me, as my Wisconsin roots were tired of the shallow soil of East Orange, New Jersey. The little back yard, with it’s pear and apple tree and black, wrought iron fence along one side, were an added sparkle in the jewel. I planned and planted a vegetable garden as well as a yard full of herbs and edible flowers for the children- everything from borage to black seed, calendula to flax. I broke the earth, planted the seeds, tended the garden, and brought in the harvest, often alone, but sometimes with the help of my little ones. I remember cool summer mornings out in the garden, weeding, making up songs in my head to teach the children to sing to their Auntie Patty over the phone.
“Chick..chuck…that’s the sound of Ummi- working in the ga-ar-den!” to the tune of “Chain Gang.”
I loved seeing the children out there, walking amongst the plants, stopping once in awhile to eat a nasturtium or tickle their noses with a bit of chamomile.
The garden was one of the hardest things to leave when we moved to Yemen. My husband kept this in mind, and when we rented a little house in Ma’bar with access to half of the roof, he bought containers, I ordered some seeds from the States, and Mujaahid set out to find us some dirt. The last part was easy, as his sweet, easygoing manner convinced a local man to give us some wonderful soil from his nearby fields. We started a compost bin, planted our seeds, and waited.
As it turned out, we were never able to harvest from our little container garden. The neighbor children messed with the plants when we were gone to school, and, eventually, we had to leave the remaining plants behind when we were forced to return to Sana’a. Still, the joy of having them is still in my heart, and adds to my memories of that little village and makes it even more special to me.
We’ve been back in America for almost two months now. I still feel disoriented, like I just don’t quite belong here. So many things- the morning air, the night sky, the call of birds- are achingly familiar and speak “home” to me. So many other things- the traffic, the tight, unattractive fashions, the noise of the heater at night- are foreign, part of a world that I feel separate from. In this tug of war that is going on, I have struggled to keep what is me alive and well, through studying, listening to lectures, taking up knitting again, writing, and other small things that remind me of who I am what is important. One of these things is the process of growing plants again. Digging in the dirt, breathing in its unique scent, planting and nurturing the seeds, tending the plants, and ultimately thanking Allaah for the gift of them to feed my family as we harvest and utilize them.
Gardening is just one of the threads that runs through my life, from when I was a child in my grandmother’s garden, to my little gardens in Liberty and Ma’bar, to here, as I struggle to make our little house, however temporary, a home- not just for my children, but for my wandering heart as well.