They say they built the train tracks over the Alps before there was a train that could make the trip. They built it anyway. They knew one day the train would come. Any arbitrary turning along the way,and I would be elsewhere. I would be different. What are four walls, anyway? They are what they contain.The house protects the dreamer. Unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game. —Under the Tuscan Sun
Last spring among my lilies and lilacs, heirlooms from Mama Lou’s garden in Kentucky, I planted lettuce, cilantro, basil, rosemary, lavender, blackberries, and tomatoes. There were no visible weeds, but I knew nothing short of exorcism could free the bed from the dormant Bermuda grass that lay beneath. Cole helped me buy and spread mulch but went on record saying he thought it silly planting a garden since he’d be leaving for college in August and I’d just have more upkeep.
He pointed to the branches of the twenty-year old English rose that looked like legs of a giant spider spread across the ground. A storm had snapped my antique trellis in half, so making do, I moved another into its place and tied the climber across it. Though iron, it leaned back from weight and skepticism. The eternal optimist, I smiled at the neatly planted herbs, fruits, and vegetables against the black canvas. Staking my claim to the sunny season ahead, I stuck my new, shiny red cage over the tiny tomato plant, anticipating the day it would be needed to hold up the fruit of my labor. That was April.
By August, Cole had gone to college. I’d thought for years that when my children left the nest I’d fly away, too. I’d watched Under the Tuscan Sun so many times and dreamed of starting a new life in Italy. But last spring, I found myself, of all things, nesting. I painted my living room, dining room and front hall. I redid my deck. I cooked, cleaned, mothered more than ever…perhaps as an attempt to deny the inevitable. My children were moving on and as thoughts of an empty house stalked me all spring, my roots reached deeper. Rather than packing up for an adventure abroad, I settled in. Strangely, it felt like I wasn’t settling.
Last week, two days before Halloween, as I went to the mailbox I noticed something in the garden.
By May the rabbits had eaten all my lettuce. By June the Bermuda and spider grass had chased my herbs back to pots on the porch. All that spring-green optimism had been burnt by fall. Cole had gone to school and so had my niece, Abby. Her sister and my daughter, now all grown up and working in the “real world,” had been under my roof at school since the four were in kindergarten. They’d lived one street apart since they were babies. They were our babies no more.
I’d spent months in refinance purgatory and had my car worked on twice–oil, then steering fluid bleeding out– bleeding me dry. My Classic Coup shirts had done well again at the Southern Festival of Books…but a wind storm took out five booths, closing them down on the last day. One was mine. I’d planned to take a group to Ecuador in May to continue work started there last summer. It had been postponed. In August I’d met someone who I thought could be The One. Our first date was the week after Cole moved to college, so the timing seemed perfect and meant-to-be. Turned out again that things are not always what they seem.
I’d turned to a new season–like it or not. Like always, fall brought fun with friends and family–at Italian Lights, Celebrate Nashville, The Italian Market. Peace prevailed in being grateful for simple things–closing on the mortgage, finding no more leaks on the garage floor, riding on new tires. Texts from Cole, picture texts from Taylor. Quick visits on weekends. Cole staying late enough to watch The Walking Dead, Taylor dropping by during the week.
All fall I’d spent grading essays like a fiend but also genuinely enjoying my students. Still I wasn’t excited about facing Halloween alone. Laughing kids running through leaves to my door would sound too much like four little goblins who my sister, brother-in-law, and I had walked through the neighborhood for years. Abby as Austin Power, Emily as Superstar, Taylor as Marilyn Monroe, Cole as Darth Vadar.
What I saw last Tuesday wasn’t the Great Pumpkin. It was something red. All summer I’d picked only two tiny tomatoes–rejected by the birds who had pecked holes in them, then flown away. It was apple season, not tomato time. Yet on the ground I found twenty ripe tomatoes. I laughed aloud, went inside, and made myself an almost- November BLT. Three days later, our first frost came.
Fruit on the vine rewards sowing in faith, but more than that, if affirms that even when I’ve given up on the season, God is still at work. It reminds me that things aren’t always what they seem, that my timing is not God’s timing, and that for everything there is a season.