I still visit that garden in my dreams. Usually I am up in
the walnut tree, perched above the world, safe in the swaying embrace of those
smooth branches. My hands are stained with sap from the husks of the nuts. In
my dreams the ground is covered with sweet violets, which is not accurate
really. The violets come from another place of safety and beauty, the woodlands
of post world war two Japan where I wandered freely all the daylit hours of
spring and summer. There too I climbed trees and rested against their strength.
It was the safe place.
It makes sense that my dreams would combine the two safe
places of my young life. At the edges are always the hollyhocks, row on row of
them. My grandmother planted them against the wall of the house but they rushed
out into the heart of the walnut treed garden, and in my dreams they are many
They were one of my first memories. I learned to walk
surrounded by hollyhock towers. And they were there, those spires of star
centered blooms, for all my childhood visits, well into my teen years. My
grandmother made me dolls and fancy earrings. We had tea parties in the walnut
The hollyhocks stood as people disappeared from my life, as
inexplicable things happened. I sat in the walnut tree and watched them grow,
all colors, red and yellow, white, pink, deep purple.
That garden is under asphalt now. It is a parking lot for a
large Safeway in the San Fernando Valley in southern California. It has been
that for many years, one of the lost places of my long life.
So much vanishes, you know. All the places we have stood,
all those points where we loved or grieved. All those people we thought we’d
see again. All those good intentions.
I was an Air Force brat, uprooted frequently, a wanderer
like many I meet these days. But I had in my heart a walnut tree , the memory
of violet strewn woodlands, the brave torches of hollyhocks. No one will ever
take those from me.
And when I found a place to root my life, I planted gardens.
I planted hollyhocks for my children, and I gave seeds away.
It’s all about where you rest your heart, you know. In all
the turmoil and terrible knowledge, where you sit and embrace the air, where
you rejoice, where you are safe.
For you it might not be the hollyhock borders. But whatever
it is, recognize it, hold it fast, pass it on.
This afternoon I was sharing information, despair, and hope
with one of my local friends and allies. We know, between us, too much of
struggles and stories. We are the ones who answer the door to someone with
broken bones or broken lives or broken dreams. There are, trust me, not enough
bandages in the world to patch up all the hurt. But we try. And we try to keep
our own hearts patched together too. You can’t do much good if you are howling
in the night. Well, at least not every night.
As she turned to go she said “wait, I have something for
She poured into my open hand a little pile of hollyhock
seeds. Pink and purple she said, from her uncle’s garden some 8 years back,
ready to grow and spread.
Yes…whatever that beauty is, whatever that safety, whatever
that hope—we need to grow it, love it, and give it away.
Yeah, I planted more hollyhocks this evening.