A few years ago, she held me by the arm as we slowly made our way through her garden. Bright and blooming it was still her prize, the accumulation of at least two decades of work, grew under the towering pine trees of East Texas. We didn’t dare allow her outside unescorted. Even though she was legally blind she was adamant.
“I can still drive…if I need to.”
“Sure, you can Aunt Kathryn, but I’ll go with you anyway.”
Her husband of over sixty years sat inside the house. Physically he was as good as a man ten years younger, however, Alzheimer’s ate away his brain day by day. Currently, he was in an endless 20-minute loop re-telling the same stories of his youth to my father, who’s brain was on an identical path. My Uncle couldn’t remember that he’d just told the stories and my Dad couldn’t remember he’d had just heard them. It was the perfect storm. In contrast, my Aunt’s brain was in perfect working order, but she looked like one good sneeze on her part would break her in half. Thin and pale and stooped and well dressed. Between the two of them they almost made a whole person.
Those of us still with a brain, escaped the story telling to the pleasant late-spring day outside. We worked our way past the garage. Their behemoth travel trailer stood there, unmoved for at least the last dozen years. It testified of the earlier years when they would take long road trips to Colorado and Alaska. I went with them one summer, when I was in my early teens. We stayed at parks way up in the mountains, the air crisp and clean and, even in July, cold at night. The mountain stream nearby flowed with gin-clear water, melted from the higher snow-pack. We rented a Jeep and explored the trails at the higher altitudes. We saw forest of Aspens and lush green meadows with Mule deer. We kept going, above the timberline. We found large patches of ice on the bare mountain side. We stopped the Jeep and climbed to the top of the ice-patch and slid down them on our butts and laughed at each other. We got back in the Jeep and kept going, around and over and down the other side. Two days later, when we returned the Jeep, the man said nobody had ever put as many miles on one in two days as we had.
She wasn’t as frail as she would be in the end, when she was confined to the house, but I watched each step she made with trepidation. All it would take, it seemed, was one false foot placement and if she went to the ground without me catching her, the result would make Humpy Dumpty look like an NFL linebacker. We inched our way along the gravel path. She inspected each section of the garden and told me about what was planted there and for how long.
“Aunt Kathryn, what’s that?”
“Where?” She squinted her eyes to get a fuzzy picture.
“There, by the Azalea bushes. That crystal ball on a stand.”
“You don’t know what that is?”
“That’s a gazing ball.” A thin smile came to her aged lips.
“What’s it for.”
“The garden fairies.” The smile grew.
“Everybody knows that the garden fairies are conceded, curious creatures. They like to look at themselves in the ball and they like the way it reflects moonlight. So, at night, they come to the garden to look at their reflection. It makes them happy so they stay in your garden and they help your flowers grow…as a way of saying ‘thank you’.”
“You should get one for your garden. It helps. I swear.”
She died this year as the woods woke up from their winter’s nap. In honor of my late Aunt Kathryn, back at the beginning of the growing season, I placed a gazing ball in my backyard. The flowering plants are flourishing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.