The Italian Garden

She lived two blocks from me, at a corner of a quiet street with a church not far away. I can’t remember the church’s name, but I remember it’s a female saint of some sort, not very English though, but rather of those people of Mediterranean. Somehow I’ve always imagined she and her husband are Italians and connected with the church, not that I have any evidence to it. Somehow my mind makes the connection all on its own regardless of my conscious reasoning or possible objections.

Every spring she’s busy in her front garden, which is not huge, just a narrow strip of land. However she lives at a corner, which enables her to spread her garden all the way from her front porch, down the steps to her yard, then all the way to the farthest curving end of the pavement. It’s not just a garden, but rather it’s a festival of flowers, stone statues, metal animal figures, lights, chimes–everything I can and cannot think of for a garden. What’s more amusing is that things there seem to relate to each other. The stone fish seems to jump up to listen to the music from the stone boy blowing his flute; the gnome gives envious glances to the stone boy and girl who are almost kissing; the butterflies stakes are everywhere–their exaggerated size and artificially brightened color only make the garden more like a place out of this world.

I’ve seen expensive gardens in botanical parks with manicured shrubs and orderly flower arrangements. I’ve seen majestic gardens of royal palaces in the movie “Orlando” adapted from Virginia Woolf’s book of same name. None of them gives me such pure joy as this garden of our neighborhood. It’s not expensive, sophisticated, or majestic–none of these adjectives is suitable for this garden, but it is indescribably lively and compassionate. It is not asking for your admiration, not showing off its wealth, not touting its order and neatness and skills, but rather it’s asking you to enjoy.

This is a lower-middle class immigrant neighborhood. Gardening is minimum, decorations rare, Christmas lights scarce–who has the money to spare? Against such a backdrop, the garden stands out in its colorful excesses.

This year is really bad. I saw her figure in the garden once in spring, but she seemed quite out of spirit. The stone figures look like they had not woken up from the winter stupor; the flowers are scattered in such a way that it is hard to think there’s anybody taking care of them; the hanging baskets on her porch are gone; all the butterflies disappeared, which I think they are safely stored somewhere and she just didn’t display them. The whole garden looks like it’s abandoned.

She still comes and goes. Her health is not the problem. Then it must be the coronavirus. If she and her husband are related to the church, they will be affected since the church is shut down; if they are running a restaurant, the business is slow; or probably her husband contracted the virus. I hope none of these is true, and the last one in particular is not true.

Why the good things in life are so fragile? Whenever there’s a whiff of trouble, they are the first to disappear. This is too pessimistic. Hope will never die and the Italian garden will thrive next year.

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