A pain-filled fall and winter got worse as we headed toward spring: the few times I went out, I caught something.
A cough that wouldn’t end.
Worn out and afraid of falling, I rarely even went into the garden.
Stuck in bed, I tried to write my way back to sanity and health.
“You’ve relapsed,” the specialist said flatly during my hospital visit.
“Guilty,” I replied. “Sorry.”
“Do NOT feel guilty,” she answered. “It was an awful winter. All my patients with complex injuries had a very tough time.”
“But your immune system is also weak,” she warned. “Be very careful this spring.”
And I was.And then.
It was gardening season.
Day after day, my husband worked hard in the garden.
I watched, feeling entirely useless.
He left, on an errand.
I spied a large crop of forget-me-not growing into the lawn from the garden beds. I know they bug him, and I know they’re easy to dig with a trowel. And so I thought I’d help.
A small thing.
A good thing.
I could do this. I crouched over the lawn and started digging, feeling useful. When the back and leg pain intensified, I lay on my front, face just above the grass.
I dug, sneezing as dust went into my nose.
Then I spied a few dandelions nearby. Now I crouched over them, trowel engaged.
“Stop!” said my wiser self.
I meant to.
In just a few seconds.
My sense of time did not kick in. It rarely does.
When I got up, the pain almost knocked me out. I staggered. Stumbled. Fought against falling, my cane desperately trying to find purchase in the ground.
“Cynthia! Cynthia!” came the panicked shout.
I had not heard my husband return.
I ask you: which is worse?
To watch your partner struggle to do the gardening duties that you loved doing — on top of everything else on his plate? Or risk even worse pain — and his distress — by doing a few small gardening things to help? Some days, I’m almost used to the pain. It’s with me all the bloody time.
But the guilt? I never get used to the guilt of watching him do all the gardening work. It drives me nuts.
“Why do you do this?” He shook his head, frustrated and angry. “You know better!”
Yes I do.
So I’m obeying the doctor. Again.
Sparing my husband distress. Again.
Trying to cope with guilt. Again.
All stuff that requires a person to be not just smart, but wise.
So far, so good.
Wish me luck.
Dedicated to all gardeners who are struggling due to age, illness or pain. And to the caring people who help us: thank you.
The little girls in this photo are Vivian, on the right, and her sister Roslyn.
Their childhood home had a vast library and Vivian loved reading books.
Classics for Junior Readers, the eleven volumes of The Foundation Library for Young People and the family’s encyclopedia were among her childhood favorites.
“My father was a very accomplished man (lawyer, Member of Parliament for Ontario, the founder and first President of the Mt. Sinai Hospital, first violinist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) and he always encouraged my reading and learning as a child.
“So reading was something I always did.”
Vivian was so bright that she skipped grades in school.
She graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor of household science degree and worked as a dietitian till shortly after her marriage. She and her husband Bud had three daughters.
Daughter Arna, a retired English teacher and now a writer and proofreader, readA Good Home and gave a copy to her mother.
“When I asked my Mom how she liked the book, she said it was one of the best she had ever read! And considering she had been reading for a good 90 years, that would be a lot of books!”
I gulped with delight and asked: “Why?”
Vivian replied: “I can picture all of her houses – her descriptions are so vivid. I can still see the house up on a hill. It brought back memories of travelling in the Caribbean and different stages of my life.”
“Two of the best things about books are that we can travel to different times and places through them, and we can learn something new with each one.”
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudiceis still one of Vivian’s all-time favorites.
Bud died a few years ago. At 96, and no longer able to walk, Vivian spends much of her time in her room. Reading, she says, is “a wonderful diversion at this stage of life when outings and new experiences are limited.”
While Arna was proofreading the manuscript for my second book (Beloved Gardens) she asked my permission to read the book to her mother. Of course, I agreed.
“It gives me great pleasure to look at my Mom sitting in her wheelchair with a big smile on her face. Or sometimes she nods her agreement to whatever Cynthia wrote.
“Sometimes she closes her eyes (still smiling) and I know that she is visualizing the scene. When I told her that the finished book would include lovely photos, she said that it didn’t really need pictures as she could see everything clearly just from the words. The book takes her on a journey in her mind.”
“These are the kind of books you can read over and over again,” says Vivian. “They make you smile and they make you cry. Because the book is so picturesque, I can think back and the memories are lovely.”
And you are the kind of reader authors love, Vivian! Thank you most kindly for loving books, including mine.
“Cynthia Reyes is one of the most talented writers of our time! I opened this book and instantly fell in love with her writing. If you are a V.C. Andrews or Louisa May Alcott die hard fan as I am, you would have thought you were reading from “FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC” or “LITTLE WOMEN.” Vivid all the way through.
I loved EVERYTHING about this book! So much so, that I had to personally reach out to the author to let her know how GREAT I found her book to be.
So much so, that I immediately sent out an email to my board members letting them know that they needed to run out to get this book right away.
So much so, that I made it my PRESIDENT’S PICK in our Newsletter, dated May 11, 2014 edition.
So much so, that I hope ONE DAY IT IS A BOOK OF THE MONTH selection because good writing such as this, deserves to be read by all. I sometimes don’t even bother to get into the detail of a book, especially if the writing is AWESOME because I feel letting you know that it is such a great read should be all that really matters.
Kudos, Cynthia, and thank you for one magnificent, extremely enjoyable book read!”
I have personally just finished reading this book and let me tell you…all I can say is “Dear Author, please NEVER stop writing!” Aside from being such a well-written book, I cannot put my finger on the one thing that made it ABSOLUTELY GREAT for me.
No, there were many things about this book that literally caused me to “feel” and want to sit down and just discuss anything with the author.
Everyone knows how much I love and appreciate well-written works of art, this one…should be in a gallery! That’s how GREAT it was. I say to EVERYONE who is in hearing range of my words right now, you want to read this book. Get your copy NOW!!! I promise you a GREAT READ! Check out my full review of “A GOOD HOME” on Monday, 5/12/14 at NONNIE’S REVIEWS!
Thank you, Nonnie Jules, for this wonderful review, and for everything you and the Rave Reviews Book Club do.
Most authors will tell you that what they really want to do is write. The fact that Nonnie and the RRBC board take the time to also review new books and support authors across the globe is a huge gift.
Thank you, Nonnie, and the board of RRBC, for what you do.
My first home, the haven of my childhood, still lives in my heart.
Even today I can see, smell, almost touch our house, bright and lovely in the hot afternoon sun. It is small – only one storey, painted pink, with a tin roof and a verandah. A wide stream runs beside it.
And I still hear it, loud with loving mother, father, sisters, brother, relatives, friends and passing strangers.
Home and family. Inseparable.
When I was 7, we were uprooted. Our family, minus our father, moved a few miles up the road to my grandmother’s house. It was the beginning of life without men – almost all the men in our immediate family left for jobs in England.
Suddenly, we were living in a village, with more houses, more people, more religion, more rules. I consoled myself by daydreaming that some time we would again be the same family living in the same little pink house with the stream. I imagined it missing us, waiting for our return.
Yet the years that followed were also times of love, learning and discovery. A kind of growing into the self I was going to be.
At the end of my teen years, I said goodbye to my family, home and Jamaica itself and boarded a plane for Canada.
I studied, got a degree, got a great job in television news. Became a Canadian citizen, married a funny and loving man. We had children, bought our first house together, raised strong kids, built award-winning careers.
I rarely went home to Jamaica. But the small pink house with its wide stream had found a new place – inside my heart. There it sat throughout the years, a secret image I alone could see, influencing the houses that attracted me, the ones we rented or bought, and the way I wanted my own children to feel.
Our children are now adults with their own homes. My husband and I still live in an old farmhouse on the edge of Toronto. Built by Scottish immigrants, it’s about as old as Canada. It is as different from the small pink house as you can imagine, but this house has its charms. It also is the stuff of daydreams and memories.
With welcoming verandahs, soaring mullioned windows and thick, thick walls, it’s a house designed to let in sunshine while protecting those inside from the biting winds of winter.
On our first visit, my husband climbed the wide maple staircase and disappeared into the house’s nooks and crannies. When he finally emerged, he said he’d felt “embraced” by the house the moment he walked in. Then he beamed a smile of such joy, my heart lurched inside me.
There and then, I knew it: We were goners, captivated by an old house with a mysterious magnetism.
Just days before we moved into the old farmhouse, I was injured in a car accident. “Poof” went my daydreams as I became a prisoner inside the house. Days became months, then years, of pain. I barely wanted to live. This last thing I told the house, afraid to tell anyone else.
The house had other ideas. One by one and two by two, it started to summon its children home. On some of my most wretched days, strangers began to show up, unannounced, their faces wreathed in friendly smiles. Years later they still come, these children of the house.
They knock at our front door tentatively, afraid that we will turn them away, or perhaps that we will let them in. After all, if everything inside has changed, will their precious memories be ruined?
When we open the door, they stand like deer caught in the headlights, not quite knowing what to say.
“This is my house!” one man finally blurts, then apologizes for what he thinks is a rude beginning. Laughing, we welcome him inside.
When they are here, they are children again, and this is still their home.
Through their eyes, I see children sliding down the banister of the wide maple staircase, yelling with glee; children helping their parents on the farm; children dressing up for a party. I see future Olympic equestrians riding their horses around the grounds, jumping over the forbidden ditch the adults have warned them about.
Sometimes, the memories are so vivid I feel I’ve flown into the past and am laughing along with the children, applauding the feats of the teenagers and their horses.
From another visitor, a different story unfolds. A child tries to hide from an abusive adult. Unable to shield the child, I sit helplessly at our kitchen table and cry with the now-adult sitting beside me.
The crying over, a silence follows. The visitor looks around the room and, glimpsing a happy memory, smiles. Walking slowly from room to room, touching the walls, talking quietly to the house, the visitor pauses as if to listen, and seems strengthened.
Except in memories, my small pink house in Jamaica is gone, bulldozed, replaced by a new building. It seems to us that by loving the old farmhouse, by taking good care of it, we are protecting not just a small piece of Canada’s heritage, but also the site of future memories and daydreams. We have no say in whether the memories will be good or bad, or both; we can only take care of the house and welcome its children home for as long as we are privileged to live here.