Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ellen's Garden

My mother-in-law Ellen died six years ago today, on my husband's fiftieth birthday. Later today Warren and I will stop at the cemetery where she and Arthur, who died exactly five weeks earlier, are buried and spend some time with them both. Maybe that is why she has been so much on my mind lately.

Maybe she is on my mind because yesterday we had the opportunity to spend time with one of Warren's nieces, in town for a soccer tournament, and at lunch Kaiti spoke about her grandmother. Kaiti was only eleven when Ellen died, but clearly she has a deep-rooted appreciation of her grandmother. She even told us a story that we had not heard before.

Maybe she is on my mind because, living in this house that she and Arthur built some 45-plus years ago, I am always mindful of her presence. The dessert glasses recently moved again after long months of quiet; I came downstairs one afternoon last week to find one at the edge of the shelf on which it sits.

Maybe she is on my mind because Ellen's chives are up.

Ellen was a prodigious gardener. She loved gardening - I have heard that repeatedly from her family and close friends. In her later years, she only grew flowers, but when Warren and his brother and sister were young, Ellen and Art planted large vegetable gardens.

The only remnants of those gardens, besides some black and white photos, are random stands of chives in the corner of the lot, where Warren's shed now stands. Last summer, I transplanted several clumps to the kitchen garden. I initially despaired of them "taking," but once the broccoli came down and the chives (along with everything else) got some sun, the results were stunning.

The chives wintered over and just recently I cut back the old growth. Warren commented yesterday, "maybe it's time to cut the chives back." I commented that I had just cut them back, then looked out the window. Where last week there had just been some stubs of chives, this week there were stands of them a foot or so tall.

Ellen would be so happy.

In the Jewish faith, the anniversary of one's death, from sunset to sunset, is a yahrzeit. Observant Jews light a yahrzeit candle, which burns 24 hours, on that day and it is day of remembrance and mourning.

I have also read about the yahrzeit being a day to celebrate, albeit quietly and respectfully, a life that was, a life - especially that of a parent - that touched your life and made a positive imprint upon it. Some families tell stories and share meaningful memories of the dead on that day.

Under Jewish law, today would not be Ellen's yahrzeit, because it is calculated on a Jewish calendar, not a standard calendar. But for someone like me, no longer of that faith but still deeply appreciative of its customs, yahrzeit is something I can transplant into my life, and April 11 is the day I know as Ellen's yahrzeit. And in listening to Kaiti and Warren talk about Ellen yesterday and in seeing her chives come back to life after the long winter, we are in our own small way honoring and observing the joy and love that was Ellen.

Ellen Wilson Hyer, June 13, 1921 - April 11, 2004.


Sharon said...

What a beautiful memorial of your mother-in-law. It sounds like she left quite a legacy!

P.S. I'm so jealous of your garden and backyard! The chives look beautiful!

Elizabeth said...

She sounds like an amazing woman. This is a beautiful memorial to her!

Arlene said...

Ellen's asparagus was without equal, a tasty vegetable that flourished after her ongoing duel with Delaware's clay soil. And Ellen's friendship was without equal... she is ever in my heart, beside my own dear mother... much beloved, though many years gone.

Bless you, April, for your words... and for your spirit.