A Good Home

SHE HAS TWIGS IN HER HAIR

I simply love this review by Toronto writer Lionel Gayle:

Blog Photo - Lionel Gayle and Bookcase - Header Image

 

SHE HAS TWIGS IN HER HAIR

Plants flourishing in the garden—such a colourful scene.  Perhaps it stirred up envy or stoked admiration in a few visitors and passers-by.  Everything seemed hunky-dory, they probably said.  And the gardener just had to sow the seeds, or plant the seedlings, or stick the cuttings in fertile soil. Plus, adding water if it didn’t rain. A few months later, jackpot! Pretty flowers ready for the vase, and fresh vegetables for the steamer.

Growing a garden from roots to shoots—or by any method—is not so simple.

Ask Cynthia Reyes.  The “passionate gardener” shares a piece of her horticultural world in her latest gardening memoir, “Twigs in my Hair” (2019).

She’ll tell you, “Gardening is much more than growing pretty flowers and nutritious vegetables.”

And, let’s say you decided to garden outside of Toronto as she does, prepare yourselves to wage a helluva war—or wars—with wild creatures, including rabbits and squirrels.

People will say gardening is hard work. But you don’t have to be interested in gardening per se to appreciate this book—157 pages of fun reading, and colourful photographs. Take the chance to snoop into Cynthia’s family life, and find out which member prefers to grow vegetables than flowers.

Just promise you won’t whine because the pictures have no captions. And, don’t liken the images to children without names

“Twigs in my Hair” is a synopsis of Cynthia Reyes’ life journey. A journey that includes her dream of becoming a gardener when she became an adult and acquired her own home. From rural Jamaica, where the failure of her first childhood garden broke her heart, she’s managed to forge a symbiosis with nature, on the outskirts of Toronto.

This little book has lots of real-life gems. As you hide indoors from Covid-19, just use the gardening landscape as a backdrop to some of Cynthia’s lifetime activities. And hide your surprise when she talks frankly about her “days and nights of sin” that turned her into “a dirty old woman.”

What she describes as the “conflict of horticultural proportions” resulted in a bangarang with her husband Hamlin Grange (who supplied the photos in this book). But what was the fight all about? And did they ever learn to garden together?

Did Cynthia ever find out why her gardening teacher refused to see her in his last days? And what was she doing in South Africa when the said tall, white-haired gardener died?

And while you hunt for those juicy bits, find out how the mother and wife, who styled herself as “a fierce gardener” reacted when her gardener friend, Les, pulled a prank on her. And see who saved her from the gigantic humiliation.

Twigs in my Hair: A Gardening Memoir

 

 

 

 

A Good Home

The Peonies are Bloomin’!

The peonies are blooming in different shades and varieties. A bit late here in the sticks, but it’s been a splendi-florous week. 

Blog Photo - Garden June 2020 - RustPink Peony

Blog Photo - Garden June 2020 - White Peony 2

Blog Photo - Garden June 2020 - Deep Pink Peony opening

Blog Photo - Garden June 2020 - Garden Deep Pink Peony

Blog Photo - Garden June 2020 - White Peony with Bee legs showing in centre

Yes, those are the legs of an insect in the centre — it didn’t move so maybe it’s asleep, as this was early morning.

Happy Juneteenth and I wish you a lovely weekend,

Cynthia.

A Good Home

When the Mask Slips

My husband is the strongest man I know.

In his work as a journalist, police commissioner, mental health adjudicator, community volunteer and diversity and inclusion consultant, he has seen and heard the most gut-wrenching cases you can imagine.

And yet, he seems to find a way to process it all, so he can come home to our family and community and be the emotionally, mentally and spiritually strong person we rely on.

As our family members have been rocked by the killing of Black people by police and now suspicious-sounding ‘suicides’ of Black men found hanging from trees in the US, he has stood strong, never giving in to the rage or despair that I occasionally express.

Having lived in both the US and Canada, and having studied Black history in both places, he brings to family discussions the context that the rest of us lack. Because of this  background and his work with mental health, policing and inclusive strategies, he knows things we don’t. When I want a level-headed perspective on such things, I turn to him.

In recent weeks, as a diversity and inclusion consultant, he has been bombarded by calls from company executives to help them address anti-Black racism in their organizations. He has heard the heartbreaking stories of Black employees who believed they were treated unfairly in some of these companies simply because of the colour of their skin. Throughout, he has listened calmly and remained strong.

Yesterday morning, I knew he was going to say something profound before he said a word. Something personal. As he drew close to me, he said, calmly: “I need you to check on me occasionally.”

I let him talk about how recent events have affected him. And in that moment, I glimpsed the pain he’s been carrying around for weeks.

Yes, even the strongest among us are affected by the killings, by the never-ending injustice, by the oppression of Black people.

Hours later, my American friend asked the rest of us in a chat group to pray for her. With 3 Black males in her family, she has been on high alert, alternating between being ultra-protective and praying. Her faith in God is strong.

But yesterday morning was rough. Her husband broke down in tears. He, too, was overcome by worry and fear. Fear for the lives of his sons, fear for his family.

To negotiate being Black in North America and Europe is to know how to manage our rage at the injustices facing our people. It’s a survival strategy: to survive, to make good lives for our families, we learn to hide our anger and despair. And so we smile. We reassure our children, sometimes daily. And we pretend that we are fine.

In Twigs in My Hair, I quoted the brilliant African-American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar. Like me, Dunbar wrote about both the serene spaces of the natural world and the harsh realities of ‘the real world’.  His 1913 poem, The Mask We Wear has come to mind several times in recent weeks:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

 

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

       We wear the mask.

 

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

       We wear the mask!

 

We would prefer to share happy thoughts, not angry ones, to give in to hope, not despair.

And we do have moments of hope.  The demonstrators, many of them young people of all races, demanding that unjust systems be changed.   The leaders who have already taken meaningful action. The resilience of Black people, after centuries of injustice.

Occasionally, though, at the place where we are most ourselves — at home — the mask slips and we admit to the pain. Yet, even here, we cannot afford to dwell too long – we cannot afford to let it paralyze us. We must be strong.

This post is a love song to Black males – boys and men – and to everyone who sometimes feels pain, rage or hopelessness. In those moments, talk to someone you trust, please. Remove the mask, even for just a moment.

 

 

 

 

A Good Home

Benjamin & Dr. Martin Luther King – A Guest Post

Friends:

Author Diane Taylor (“The Gift of Memoir” & other books) shared this with me and I got her permission to share it with you. Thank you, Diane.

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Let me tell you about my son Benjamin and Dr. Martin Luther King, and how I came to write the poem below. And also why I am bringing the poem to light after it has been dormantly lying with a collection of other poems in a bottom drawer for the past thirty-seven years, accessible to my eyes only.

Blog Photo - Diane Taylor1

Most people come of age in their teens. I came of age during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. I was well aware of Dr. Martin Luther King’s  I Have a Dream speech when in 1964 I grabbed the chance to march with many others down Yonge Street in Toronto against segregation in Selma, Alabama. Bus loads of Canadians travelled to Selma to encourage Black voter registration – which had only recently become legal. It was my first year teaching.

In his speech, Dr. King said he could see “One day when little black children would walk hand in hand with little white children …” He was shot and killed in 1968.

In the early ‘80s, I had the opportunity to live and work – on  a conch farm – in a primarily Black community on a small island in the Caribbean. By then, I was the mother of a one-year-old. It was pure joy for me to see my little white child playing with little black children, living out Martin Luther King’s Dream.

Blog Photo - Martin Lutehr King

In the islands, there was the chance to right the wrongs of the past, to live life the way it should be lived, free from the prejudices of race and colour. 

I have a photo of little Ben playing in the sand with his little black friend Nevil. They are both three and a half. The ocean is placid just a few feet away. They are both on their knees, bodies energetically engaged in a fantastic creation, both with their weight on one arm while the other arm is madly pulling sand into a castle that defies archeological logic, but is clearly amazing to both of them. And they had to be fast, for the sun was almost down, on another prefect day, and their mothers would soon be taking them home.

Ben died not long after that photo. A Benless future was unimaginable and unacceptable. Poems were a way of connecting with his spirit and keeping him with me. I shared them with family at the time, but not since. They are too tender a part of me to be casually shared.

Then, George Floyd. After so many others. That’s why this is the right time and the right place for the boy named Benjamin to emerge from the bottom drawer into the light.

For Martin Luther King

She had a dream

That one day

Her little blond boy

Would walk hand in hand

With little black children.

~~

The dream came to pass

They walked hand in hand

Trekked island paths

Built castles in the sand

Ran Time into the ground.

~~

But, it turns out it’s Time

Noncommittal and cold

Does the running

And Time runs out

Into the costly cosmos.

~~

Dr. King? That little blond boy –

Please take his hand in yours.

 

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