The View from Mattie’s Pillow

We’re deep into July now.  Though we continue to have days of rain, they’re interspersed with scrubbed-blue-sky days with temperatures in the 70s or, if we have more than one clear day in a row, in the 80s.  Now that we’re a month past solstice, the nights cool off a bit on the clear days and we’re noticing a hint of darkness in the sky after midnight—just enough to ease the insomnia that plagues us in the Interior around solstice.  Just enough to send a warning of things to come and send us urgently chasing after summer plans.  A friend is canoeing on the river for a week; the softball team is making spectacular plays (for them); the horse community is revving up training for the fair, our one big horse show of the year.

 

I’ve been going back and rereading last year’s blog entries, which assure me that my garden and greenhouse are exactly where it was last year—some tomato plants still in small pots, the zucchini just starting to bloom and put out shiny dark green squashes.  I’ve been riding more this summer—two lessons a week and lots of driving the old clunker truck and trailer around town.  The garden has suffered some neglect because of this and because of the teaching I’m doing at the moment, but it seems to be growing anyway.

 

I’ve been thinking of my grandmother these days, the one I called Weezie.  At a writer’s group meeting a week or so ago, I read a poem about her taking me to an art museum when I was a young child.  Linda, a poet, said to me, “She was your muse.”

 

I hadn’t thought of it that way, but as I stand in the greenhouse, transplanting tomatoes, mixing soil, adding willow stakes for them to grow against, I find that I think of her.  She was the daughter of a woman who made her living china painting in the late nineteenth century.  She and her sister Marguerite trained in art in Cincinnati and she always thought of herself as an artist more than anything else.  Marguerite married a ceramic sculptor named John Williams and moved to California.  I still have a few pieces or their work somewhere—or my mother does.

 

But Weezie—Louise–joined a group of women in 1918 in a horticultural class at the Ambler campus of Temple University in Philadelphia where they learned the landscape arts, plant propagation, and got to wear bloomers.  There’s a photo in an album at my mother’s house that shows them—women in their twenties with wire-rim glasses smiling and liberated by the opportunity to do “men’s” work.  When my grandmother had the opportunity to travel to Maryland and met my farmer grandfather, with his strong cheekbones and blue eyes, she thought she had found the perfect life.  She could use her scientific knowledge of agriculture on the farm and she could re-design the nearby plantation gardens in a more modernist fashion.

 

I like to think of her as she was then, long before I knew her: artistic, determined, full of plans to make the world a better place, and liberated from Victorian rules of behavior.  She didn’t count on my great-grandfather, however, who sent her to the kitchen and made her wear dresses.  And she didn’t count on the Depression.

 

When I knew her, she was landscaping the lot beside my grandparents’ house in Salisbury, Maryland, keeping it so that it looked wild, but planting things all through it that she could point out on our walks there.  She would walk me around the property, telling me the names of plants, weeding and pruning and cutting flowers for our lunch table.  She told me many things I didn’t understand at the time, but they lodged in my memory waiting for the right moment to dislodge into consciousness when I would finally grasp their importance.

 

I hope to write about her more, to dig into her history more and find out how she became the woman she was and why she chose the life she did.  But now the tomatoes need tending and, if I listen closely, she’ll guide me to tend them well.

 

 

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One Response to “The View from Mattie’s Pillow”

  1. Karen Douglass Says:

    Grandmothers are important in ways we don’t easily recognize. In my early years I was cared for by my grandmothers and have written a number of poems about them. I’d love to see what you have too.

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