"Like many emigrants my notion of “home” was challenged... My mother’s garden came to embody that particular place."
I often wonder how her garden is doing now? It was my mother’s pride and joy. Like many such an oasis in the heart of Wexford Town it was long and narrow, and nestled behind crumbling stone walls.
We hadn’t been raised in the house on John’s Road, yet I came to love it. From my mother’s garden you could see the twin diocesan church spires, the Franciscan Italianate belfry, and the sweep of the narrow streets down to the harbor.
This view gave you a sense of the town, its bloody history, and the quiet determined stoicism of its citizens.
After I had my own children I stopped going home at Christmas and instead spent a vacation there every summer.
At first this was hard – Christmas being such an integral part of the Irish psyche - but the long quiet summer days possessed their own charms.
Like many emigrants my notion of “home” was challenged; I no longer totally fit in anywhere, constantly tugged between two vital forces with the new gradually gaining ground.
And yet the old maintained its own inviolable encampment deep within my psyche. My mother’s garden came to embody that particular place.
It was a quiet spot and I was often reminded of Yeats’ “bee loud glade,” for it would be in full bloom in those mid-summer days.
The sweet pea was my favorite; with its vivid colors and seductive fragrance, I found this plant calming and loved to sit nearby. My mother, however, informed me it was invasive and had to be kept in check or “it would take over the whole place.”
The Buddleia also comes to mind. She had taken a root from my grandfather’s headstone yard. It grew there out of the very walls – she suspected it liked the limestone dust.
It certainly favored her garden and butterflies swarmed around it. I could never settle on the color of its blooms. Was it mauve or purple?
I asked her opinion on this once. She looked at me oddly and said that depended on the quality of the day’s sunlight.
Many Wexford Town people of her era were but a generation or two removed from farms and had an instinctive knowledge of nature. My parents’ greatest pleasure was a drive to a rural seaside spot on a Sunday afternoon. The slow meandering passage through the countryside seemed to replenish their souls.
Perhaps that’s why I never minded the long grueling journeys around America with Black 47 – there was always something to look at, to compare with the gentler vistas of County Wexford.
Her roses were the crowning glory of her garden. She didn’t go in for the more delicate types, although she appreciated them. No, her first requirement was that they bloom throughout the summer. And they did.
She liked to study her demesne from a glass encased “sun room,” often consulting some old gardening books. My father would sit there too, his face buried in the “racing pages” of the Independent until he dozed off in the gathering heat.
In the ensuing quiet she would plan her horticultural moves. I could always tell, for a quiet look of determination would settle on her face.
My father might be resistant – he’d wonder, for instance, why a butterfly plant or rose with such deep roots had to be moved. But she was insistent and always got her way.
Those were the last pre-digital years. News came by the morning paper and the radio. Life was slower, perhaps deeper, and certainly less frazzled.
By the time I’d return to New York my own biological clock would seem to tick a little slower and less loudly. I would have had time to reflect, and plan my own creative endeavors – what book, play, or album would I attempt in the coming year?
The house is leased out now. Tenants come and go, most with little time for the garden.
And so I often picture it – the sweet pea running riot, the Buddleia high over the walls, and the roses intertwining with each other in a riot of glorious libertarian color.
Even though she’s long gone, my mother’s garden still provides the same safe center in an ever-roiling world.
* Larry Kirwan was the leader of Black 47 for 25 years. He has written 16 plays and musicals, his latest Paradise Square will open in Berkeley Rep in December. He has written three novels, a memoir, and A History of Irish Music. He hosts and produces Celtic Crush on SiriusXM Radio and writes a bi-weekly column for The Irish Echo.
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