We Planted the Garden Alone This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 10, 2012
Slowly the rising sun peeked into my window and gently woke me. Robins and chickadees competed for air time with wings that sounded like my mother’s wash flapping in the wind. Their songs were long and shrill; dozing was out of the question. The insistent click of my dog’s toenails on the hardwood floors and her cold, wet nose pushed into my face was the final encouragement I needed to get out of bed.

As I pulled on my oldest jeans and most-loved sweatshirt, I heard my mother’s knees crack, telling me I was not the only one awake. We went downstairs together to eat muffins and fresh fruit with my brother. The morning paper rustled as he searched for the comics. We ate quickly because this was “garden day.”

Tilling the soil was my mother’s job. The machine she used was heavy and loud. When she cut the engine, our ears rang for several minutes, reminding us that even with plugs, tilling the soil the old-fashioned way would be better. My brother and I put up a fence to keep animals out. Everyone had a hammer to pound the fence into the soft, dark earth. Then it was seed time. The rows had been carefully planned and everyone had a vegetable to plant. This was our quietest moment. We all looked down at our magic hammers and knew this garden was different.

The “magic hammer” was my grandfather’s idea. Everything grew large if planted with a magic hammer from my grandfather’s tool box. He had a seemingly endless supply. No grandchild was without one. He would fill our garden time with laughter and our ears with stories of him on the “old wooden ships.” He explained how hard it was to “grow good vegetables” on their decks. When we were little, we believed him. Now we adore him.

He did not come to help us today. He is old, he says, and does not like to leave his house for too long. The man who once went to sea on submarines for nine months is afraid to leave his front porch.

His voice is softer now and his stories, if he can remember them, are slower, filled with the sounds of the sea more than the sights he saw. His gray-blue eyes go out of focus as he relives these times when he was younger and his hands did not hurt. His silences are longer and more frequent as his mind goes to sea without his body. This silence, his silence, fills my ears as nothing else ever will. I can see him getting old, that is true, but the worst is hearing him get old. This is almost more than I can bear.

So today we planted our garden. We put up our sun-faded red fence and accented its corners with my mother’s collection of exotic birdhouses. And when we made holes with our magic hammers, we thought of my grandfather and how he was not coming. When we pushed in the seeds, we remembered his laughter. When we covered the seeds with dirt, we knew our garden days with him were in the past. The silence around our conversation was because one of us was missing.

After the work was finished, I sat back and looked at the blue sky and watched it darken to twilight. I could almost hear the ocean getting rougher, as if one of Grandpa’s storms was building. As the screen door closed softly behind me, I wondered if Grandpa was still still sitting on his porch in the fading light. I wondered if the light in his eyes had faded a little more today. With the thought of that light fading forever and the sounds of his sea in my mind, I asked Mom if we could plant a garden at Grandpa’s house tomorrow. She must have heard the same storm at sea because she smiled and said, “Of course.”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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