The Fern in my Garden

I wasn’t popular. I never really wanted to be, but I wanted friends. Like anyone else, I wanted a few people in my life with whom I might share the daily trials and tribulations as well as discovering how silly we could become.
I didn’t really have friends. I had moved with my family too many times.  I was an expert at being the new kid at the ripe old age of 9 and I didn’t like it. Each time I changed schools, I was faced with the looks from the other kids and the whispers every where I went.  I didn’t know what those kids thought was the ONLY way to dress or to be “cool”.  I never knew if the new class was at the same place in the lessons as the one I had just left behind and I never knew how the new teacher treated the students.  It was all too scary and too stressful for such a young age.
I consoled myself with the fact that my home life was happy. I could go home to a mother who loved me and a father who loved and looked out for us. Home was happy.  Until one day in November.
In the middle of that month, we were told our Mother would be going into the hospital for an operation.  Mom and Dad didn’t seem concerned so neither was I.  I was going to stay with a close family friend until Mom came home. Only she never came home.
Mom died that day along with a large part of my heart. I was sent to live with my Dad’s older sister. She meant well and did love us but I was miserable. No one talked about my mother’s death. No one discussed with me what was to happen now that my world had been torn apart. No one even told me WHY my mother died or how.  Life as I knew it ended.
After several months with my aunt, Dad took me home to where we had lived with Mom to be cared for by his friend’s mother. This arrangement was short lived, however, when it came out that she drank. Again I was uprooted and again I was not told a thing. Only this time, the situation showed promise of a happier outcome.
Without any real explanation, the home I had known was sold and we moved once again.
This time, we moved to a new house in a town where much of my mother’s family could be found. I was to be cared for by my mother’s aunt and uncle. These were people who had been instrumental in my life from the very beginning and knowing I would live with them helped me begin to feel whole again.
The situation was not ideal, as nothing ever truly is, but it felt right to me as a child. The house we moved into was too small to house my aunt and uncle, my Dad, myself and my three siblings, but it was a loving home. We had very little but never felt poor. My aunt and uncle had solutions for our deficiencies which felt more like fun than necessities.  I learned about gardening and canning the resulting produce. I learned about picking blackberries and using them to make jam (not to mention my aunt making the very best blackberry cobbler ever). I learned about caring for farm animals, milking Goldy the cow twice each day and actually having a very large sow who came when I whistled. I learned about fishing and gigging frogs and I learned a bit about hunting.
I learned about trading our home grown produce for other things we needed and I learned that a person didn’t need much to be ‘rich’. But most of all, I learned about faith.
My aunt became the foundation of my life. She gave me strength and hope and she showed me that no matter what happens in life, there is a positive side. We had so little but I never knew it.
I remember cutting a path through the woods with my uncle straight to my cousin’s place. We never used that path, but that day spent creating it was pure bliss for me.  I remember my aunt and uncle pulling off a GREAT prank when I had a slumber party with friends. And I remember my aunt sitting with me at a small portable organ teaching me to play “Sentimental Journey”.   I learned the thrill of creating music with my own hands and the feeling of freedom that gave me.
Most of all, I remember that no matter what happened, my aunt was there when I needed her. She always had a hug or a smile or words of encouragement that I needed and she had, and still has,  complete and unconditional love.
In the years since, life has, of course, been difficult, but one constant has been my aunt and her unconditional love.  She and my uncle moved to Idaho when my Dad remarried but we began writing letters then. Her letters have always been full of the same humor and love that she always shared. These letters always end the same way…with numerous X O X O X O’s. 
Today, at the glorious age of 95, my aunt is facing the ultimate difficulty. Illness is overtaking her, but true to her character, she spreads her love and she shares her smiles to everyone she meets.  Still, she is teaching me of love and faith and hope. 
My own mother was taken from me but in her place came my dear aunt, Fern Sellars. She has always been an angel among us and she truly is the Fern in my garden.

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One Response to The Fern in my Garden

  1. stanfordnl says:

    Just over two weeks after this essay was posted, my beloved Nanny Fern passed away. To the end, she was overflowing with love and faith. Afterward, I received a letter from one of her caregivers. Nanny Fern had asked her to write tell me she loved me. I knew, Nanny. I ALWAYS knew.

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