Grandmothers and gardening

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
that the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
descending in the dark?

~ Wendell Berry

Both of my grandmothers were gardeners. Tulla, my father's mother, lived in a granny flat attached to the house where my family lived for 15 years before my parents rustled up enough of a deposit to buy a house of their own.  Tulla was out there every single day from the day I was born, and years and years after we had moved, right up until the time she went into a nursing home in her late eighties.  I think Wendell Berry's words would have resonated in Tulla's soul.  She was a bitter old thing in many ways, and there was more than one occasion where I was bewildered by her bizarre suspicion even of members of her own family at times.  But her garden was her solace and her live, silent companion.  I would pay good money to have one more taste of one of her meals, cooked with the produce that came fresh from her own planting.

As far as I'm concerned we should have let Tulla stay at home and continue gardening until she dropped dead right there on the spot, and then bury her right in the middle of one of her garden beds that was full of worms and dark, rich compost.

When I was born my mother's mum, Grandma, lived in Boronia with Grandpa on a double block.  Their veggie garden was the most badass veggie garden I've ever seen.  That's my auntie, Dawn, on the left there in this photo, with her famous legs.  Grandma is in the middle.  And that's my mummy on the right, carrying me.

That veggie garden was rows and rows.  It was such a commonplace thing 40 years ago.  Everybody grew their own veggies.  I have heard it said that these days there is less than half a week's supply of food in our supermarkets.  The intervening years have been very strange, and now we find it's an act of resistance and a wake-up from an eerie slumber to indulge in the subversive and tiny act of growing some of your own food.

The fatigue that has encroached and retreated in various degrees for over more than a decade has lifted a little recently, and on Sunday I pulled some weeds and lay down some newspaper and mulch in the veggie patch in preparation for some seedling planting next weekend.  I think in hindsight I may have overdid it, as there was a tearful meltdown in there as well, but I don't know I've overdid it until I've overdone it.  It's like being premenstrual for six straight months ... except for the times when I'm feeling fine.  Bizarre.

I think I'm on the right track with the pyroluria/heavy metal detox treatment.  I guess the meltdowns are not surprising when you consider that my body is ridding itself of a toxic cocktail it's been harbouring against its will for decades of high copper, antimony, beryllium, barium, cadmium, thallium ~ things I barely know how to spell let alone understand how I accumulated.

Although the cadmium I know - that's the legacy of 20 years of smoking those stupid cigarettes.  And yet even it is fascinating to realise that the low zinc levels I have obviously suffered from for decades may have contributed at least in part to why it was that I began smoking cigarettes - the cadmium in the cigarettes is a compensation for the effects of low zinc, and provides a grounding feeling to compensate for the spaciness caused by high copper.  Who woulda thunk? 

When I'm not having meltdowns and feeling that horrible familiar vulnerability when the world just crashes in like a tsunami and my body crashes down and I just can't cope, I'm starting to feel good again.  The hellish paranoia that has fogged up my body like my own personal cloud is beginning to go and I will never be able to quite put into words just how glad I am about that :)

In the last 10 years I've noticed a greater desire to begin gardening more, and growing more of my own food, but it's been something I haven't been able to put into much effect.  The gardening bug seems to be one that hits people as they grow older, especially women.  It hasn't been able to hit me yet, though I invite its invasion.  It's hit my auntie though, Tulla's daughter.  I never knew her to have a green thumb before but now, in the past several years, her garden has become a flourishing beauty full of variety, and she a member of her local gardening club.

The propensity towards gardening as you get older I think is a deepening into an understanding of and connection to your roots, both literally and figuratively.  I invite the gardening bug invasion.


  1. I've not had both the opportunity and the inclination at the same time to do this (not to mention any idea how to start:)) but who knows... I get up to some weird things, and I might just surprise myself one of these days. Thanks for another well-written and inspiring nudge, Sue.

  2. Sue, your post will prompt all sorts of memories in your readers, it is so powerfully evocative, thank you!
    We "not so young anymore" folks all grew up in clouds of cigarette smoke — everyone in my family was an avid smoker, including parents, aunts and uncles, and even grandparents. My father smoked a pipe, cigars and cigarettes and lived to 83. I loved the smell of cigars and became a smoker unfortunately also, but finally did kick the habit. Back to mega-dosing with Vitamin C (several weeks minimum), —for me at least, it also produces a sense of good health and mental well-being.

  3. That's an interesting comment about the cadmium in cigarettes...does this mean I could have felt better all these years if I had been a smoker. Think I'll stick to popping pills for now. Interesting to think I would probably trade quality of life for length of life...

    I'm no gardener, my wife is though. Maybe when I retire one day I could have a vege patch but it doesn't particularly appeal at the moment.

    Stick with the Pyroluria supplements, it takes a while but you'll get there.

  4. Just wanted to add that of course not suggesting anything to replace what is clearly working for you, Sue. Some years ago I stumbled upon a private group of older women, who were sharing all these fabulous home remedies that they had worked out over many years time. I got more help from those generous ladies risking their personal experiences, than any doctoring ever. And they solved some really tough symptoms. Someday someone will stumble on your post on Pyroluria and get some real help from it. It's good to share this stuff that works for us,

    I understand about choosing quality of life over length of life, too. Every once and a while when there is so much tension, I think of smoking, but happily the cost of a pack of cigarettes is so high now I wouldn't be able to afford it. I enjoyed every cigarette I ever smoked, but there are people dependent on me, and need me to have some length in my life, and other people who don't need me, but I love much, so I hope to stick around for them too, and stay as healthy as I can.

  5. Yes to gardening. Even just a plant or herb indoors helps I think. I have a violet (see blog) I propagated from one leaf. And a willow tree in a container. Willows are awesome for their mythology.


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