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About the book and author



Tending Roses
by Lisa Wingate

New American Library, 2001
ISBN: 0451203070 
Fiction, 304 pp
Trade paperback: $12.95

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Excerpt from the book 


(In this scene, the main character, a thirty-something confused first-time mother, discovers a handmade notebook left on the table
by her grandmother)

The next page was blank except for dots of ink that had bled through from the page after. Turning the page, I found writing that quivered like Grandma’s hands.

"Time For Tending Roses," I whispered the title and thought of the beautiful rose garden that bloomed on the lawn in summertime. It had been there as long as I could remember, carefully manicured, with every bloom perfect-- just as perfect and neat as everything else in Grandma’s household.

Time For Tending Roses

I read the title again, then dove into the story with a strange hunger for the words.

When I was a young woman, I seldom owned anything of which to be proud. When I was old enough to work in a shop in St. Louis and live on my own, most of my wage was sent home to provide for my younger brothers and sisters, for my parents had not even their health by this time. When I was married, I came to my husband’s farm with all that I owned packed in a single crate. Everything I saw, or tasted, or touched around me belonged to my husband. I felt as the air in that big house, needed and used, but not seen.

God sent an answer to me in worship that spring, when an old woman told me she wanted the gardens cleaned around her house, and if I would do the work, I might have flower bulbs and starts of roses as my pay. My husband pretended to think the idea rather foolish, as I was needed on the farm, but he was patient with me as I worked through the early spring cleaning gardens and moving starts to a newly-tilled bed by our farm house. He was older than I, and I think he understood that I needed something of my own.

Those roses were the finest things I had been given in my life, and I tended them carefully all spring. As the days lengthened, they grew well and blossomed in the summer heat, as did I. Coming in and out of the house, I would look at them-- something that belonged to me, growing in soil that belonged to him.

Even passing folk admired my roses, for my work made the blooms large and full. Once, a poor hired lady came with a bouquet of roses and wildflowers clasped in her hands. She told me that her children had sneaked into my garden and picked them for her, and that they would be punished. I bade her not to scold the children, for I was proud to give them this gift. She smiled, and thanked me, and told me that, with so many children, she had no time for tending roses.

I did not understand her words until my own children were born. When the first was a babe, I took her outside and let her play in an empty wash barrel so I could have time for tending my roses. I was often cross with her cries while I was at my work. As she grew, and as my second child was born, I understood what the hired lady had told me-- that motherhood leaves no time for selfish pleasures. Only time
for tending others.

My roses grew wild and died as I busied myself with feeding and diapering, nursery rhymes and sick beds. I missed those bright blooms that had been mine and felt it unfair that I must leave my hard work there to die. But I did not think of it overmuch. My mind and heart were occupied with the sorrows and joys of motherhood.

The day came, it seemed in no time, when my children were grown and gone, and I again found time to tend the roses. I could labor over them dawn until dusk with no children to feed, no husband needing meals, and few passers by on the old road. My flowers have come thick and full and beautiful again. From time to time, I see neighbor children come to pick them when I am silent in my house. I close my eyes and listen to their laughter, and think that the best times of my life, the times that passed by me the most quickly, were the times when the roses grew wild.

The sense of sadness in those last words was overwhelming. For a moment, I glimpsed my own future-- considered a day when I would sit alone in a quiet house trying to fill my time-- at the end of things rather than at the beginning. The beginning of a journey is always uncertain, but with uncertainty comes hope. Never had I appreciated the value of that. Through all of my adult life, I had wanted to know exactly where I was going and what path to take to get there. I had never considered the beauty of where I was. Sitting there in Grandma’s kitchen, holding her book, I thought of her as a young woman not able to see that something wonderful was passing-- not missing the noise until she was surrounded by silence.

For the first time in my life, I was very glad just to be where I was.

Copyright 2002  Lisa Wingate


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