By Barrie Levine
PROMPT — Who am I today?
During our marriage, my husband was in charge of the outside of the house — mowing, raking, planting, shoveling snow, splitting firewood. I managed my domain on the inside — cleaning, organizing, decorating, making school lunches, and cooking vegetarian meals. Paul was a serious gardener and landscaper. I dubbed him “demon of the wood, field, and stream.” After a morning outdoors, he’d come in for lunch with mud on his boots and didn’t always scrape it off before walking across the oatmeal-colored carpeting. He was eager to show me the stone wall he had built or the beans climbing up the wire fence, cucumber vines spreading along the ground, ears of corn forming on stalks — until the “critters” tore them apart and savaged the ears on an overnight rampage. When he quit for the day, he emptied a basket of colorful produce all over the kitchen countertop, his wondrous offering for the nourishment of our family. My husband died in December of 2013. A harsh winter ensued, in every possible way. In the early spring, I stepped outside to survey the yard, strewn with debris, broken branches, and mounds of wet, moldy leaves. I opened the garden shed to the sight of various implements hanging neatly from clamps lined up along the walls, ready for the next growing season — the one he would not see. On a grim and dreary day, I deliberately placed one foot in front of the other and set out to start the yard cleanup. I became a gardener reluctantly. As the weeks went by, I noticed the crocus and daffodils emerging, the forsythia and lilac buds beginning to flower in the sun, then the hosta unfurling their coiled leaves in the shade. I smoothed the beds with the grading rake and dug out weeds with a trowel, filling the wheelbarrow many times over. I became more adventurous and changed the shape of different areas adjacent to the house, kicking the spade into the ground to overturn the stony New England ground. I expanded the beds into more contoured shapes, my own gardening style. I sensed Paul’s oversight and presence — and his enduring pride — in his garden. And his pride in me, taking on his responsibility. I had watched him for years and picked up more than I had realized. I worked for hours each day, just like he did, nourishing my shattered heart with fresh air, sunlight, and memory, alternating with fatigue and tears. I slept deeply at night, my body recovering from the unaccustomed physical exertion in the heat of the day. I dreamt of colors, shapes, drifting clouds, light rains, the peacefulness of cooling shade on my skin. I began to feel my own connection, viscerally and in spirit, to the outdoors around me and the safely solid earth underneath. Nevertheless, healing took a long time, through many seasons.
Barrie Levine retired from the practice of law three years ago. She took up creative writing to replace the legal writing that had been part of her career for four decades. At age 76, Barrie is passionate about writing, started her own blog, joined a workshop, read at open mics, and lead a twice-monthly writing group at her local senior center. She and her husband raised four children during their forty-one-year marriage and now she is the grandmother of eight. Barrie continues to garden, a source of poetic inspiration and an opportunity for physical fitness.