Steadying Ourselves

My mother, Phyllis, steadying herself with one hand, hoeing with the other.

It’s a Saturday morning in April. I’m sleeping in my childhood bedroom in the house I grew up in. This strip of suburbia is known as Little Hollywood, which is an inexplicable name for a 1950s neighborhood built on an old strip mine in the coalfields of southwest Virginia.

I drove six hours yesterday for this visit, and I’m coming off some stressful weeks at work, a tired story in itself. So, I’ve taken this opportunity to sleep a little later than usual. Not to mention it was sometime between midnight and dawn when my parents, my brother and I, gave up the old ghosts last night and let the stories taper off with no endings.

When I pull myself from sweet slumber I look out the window and there is my Mother already working in the garden. This won’t surprise anyone who knows her. But let me describe the scene a bit more. These are the Appalachian mountains, and there isn’t a lot of flat ground.

Our house sits at the bottom of a steep hill, and for years my parents grew a very large garden way up the hill. Now my Mom has smaller gardens closer to the house, including some raised beds my brothers built her in a back corner. But today she’s working the soil along the bottom edge of an old rose garden that now shares space with radishes and garlic, and when she’s finished this morning will have a small patch of early peas. She works close to the house because the climb up the incline to the big garden feels insurmountable most days. She’s pushing 82 and her hips ache even when there’s not a storm on the way. In the heat of the summer she will still make the trek a few times, carrying soapy water to rid the tomato patch of stinkbugs, or to check on the potato rows my Daddy plants.

But this morning when I look out my window, she’s working this small piece of ground by leaning on her cane with one hand and hoeing with the other. Steadying herself.

There’s so much more I could write here, but for now I just want to think about her steadying herself. And express my gratitude for her steadying hand in my life.


This is one of the raised beds my brothers built. She uses it mostly for greens.


6 responses to “Steadying Ourselves

  1. Rosie Locke

    A beautiful tribute to your Mom, Julie. I can visualize each detail. Your words paint with color.

  2. Jo garrison

    Nice, Julie. Would love to share with my friend, Darnell Arnoult, who teaches creative writing at Lincoln Memorial.

  3. Julie, this is a beautiful piece that left me with a desire to read more. Write on!

  4. DruAnna Overbay

    What reality looks like for most Appalachians who still believe in the wholesome home grown vegetables. This poignant story is so true to those who grew up in the area. Though my mother quit her gardening when we moved to Knoxville, I can still remember that special garden in Vardy where I would sneak a fresh green onion from the bed, wipe it on Mt dress tail and eat it sans salt. Enjoy your time with your mom.

  5. Dave Russo

    Love this tribute, Julie! I don’t think the apple has fallen far from the tree 😉

  6. Teresa Hayden

    Lovely, Julie.

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