The year 1990 was more than the beginning of a new decade for me. I had just survived three years of traumatic losses, hits to my primal weakness, abandonment. My cousin had committed suicide in 1987. My best friend committed suicide in 1988. In 1989, both my parents were diagnosed with cancers. My mom survived hers, but my dad died. My husband ran for public office and won after having lost an election 4 years earlier. All the walking door to door ultimately took out his back. After writhing in pain for weeks, with me sleeping on the floor because he couldn’t get comfortable in bed, he had surgery. Everyone was in a physical mess but me. I was working, helping my parents, helping Michael and taking care of my kids who were seven and two and a half. What a mad time that year was. I just ran from place to place, tending to people and trying to keep up with the daily demands of life. I knew I was changing inside but I couldn’t tell how those changes would manifest themselves. I was 38 years old.
When 1990 began, I decided to try fixing what I could. I planned a trip with my mom and kids, wanting to meet a long held dream of hers to visit Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. My dad wasn’t a big traveler. I thought that I could give her a dream and also get a few goodies for my tired brain. I’d spent years studying the Civil War and figured that I could pack in a few sights of my own that were near enough to be reasonable add-on destinations. What an ill-conceived plan. My mom never got a driver’s license, so I took off as the only driver on a 12 and a half hour trip with her and my two kids in the back seat. We managed a stop at Jefferson’s Monticello and then spent a few days walking the cobbled streets of Williamsburg. My mom had a bad knee. She’d stubbornly refused surgery and was favoring it a lot as we roamed around. I was excitedly getting ready to head for Richmond to check out the history and hit a few battlegrounds before we turned for home.
Our first stop was Jefferson Davis’ White House of the Confederacy. We drove down Monument Avenue, the site of many enormous statues which have since ignited controversy about celebrating the heroes of a slave-owning culture.( A story for a different blogpost.) When we arrived at our destination, I was immediately anxious as the house had multiple stories and no elevator. I tried to talk my mother into staying on the first floor but she insisted on seeing everything, stairs or not. Up we went and down we came. By the time we reached the first floor again, she could barely walk. We made our way to our hotel where the kindly matriarch of a family reunion there, dispatched some young men to help me get my dependent menagerie to our room. In those pre-cell phone days, I went down to the lobby to call Michael and both furiously and tearfully told him I was bringing everyone home the next day. I was angry and despondent. This was supposed to be the corner-turning time for me. Instead, it just felt like a continuation of the previous years.
We made it back home with me driving through some white-knuckle rainstorms in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. We dropped mom off at her place and arrived at our house, the kids still miraculously alive. When we got there, Michael told me that the day before the return home, our dog Sydney had run out into the street to chase an animal and had been hit by a car. She was alive with a new thousand dollar leg. I felt battered in almost every way. But there was nothing to do but move on. During catastrophic 1989, I hadn’t any extra time to work on my burgeoning garden. Too many sick people.
We’d been in our home for almost 12 years. For the first eight or nine, we’d been reclaiming our old house from its life as a three apartment rental building. In 1930, at the height of the Depression, such a large home was too expensive to maintain. We were slowly converting it back into a single family residence. The yard was mostly barren except for some overgrown shrubs along the front sidewalk which were filled with huge weeds and volunteer trees. Over time, we reclaimed that space. We fenced the back yard and Michael started thinking vegetables while I gingerly began making my way through the world of flowers, shrubs and ornamental trees. I started with petunias and marigolds. Then the ball began rolling.