Like many of you, I’ve been thinking of Belgium, the residents of Brussels, and those who were struck down by violence.
And it’s during these moments when I want to stay in my garden, to bury my hands in soil, to tend to chores, to think, to make sense out of something senseless, to contemplate. I think that’s a big reason why Margaret Atwood’s quote from The Handmaid’s Tale resonates with me.
Where would we be without flowers?
So into the garden I went . . .
I thought of this small souvenir from Brussels. It belonged to my grandmother for as long as I can remember, one of the tchotchkes on the dresser in my great-grandmother’s bedroom — an odd little metal statue of a small boy urinating.
This is Manneken Pis.
The legend, according to my grandmother, involved a young prince who had gone missing. His father, the king, swore that if his son were found, he would build a statue to commemorate the moment of his discovery. And this is how the boy was found.
As a small boy myself, I probably giggled at the story — but that was the story my grandmother told and she was sticking to it.
After the death of my great-grandmother, the small statue stayed where it had always been, on her dresser in her bedroom. When my grandmother sold her house in Queens, NY, and moved to Long Island, Manneken Pis came with her. And after her death, I placed it in a cabinet in my home. It’s now with me in Florida.
When Joe and I visited Brussels about 20 years ago, I was determined to meet the statue with whom I had grown up. On a rainy evening, we found him — a small statue in a tight corner of some twisting streets, still urinating after all these years. (The umbrella is for the rain — not any other spray!)
Although there are many legends surrounding the real statue, one thing is for certain: it’s synonymous not only with Brussels, but with all of Belgium. The real statue is dressed up for various events and has hundreds of outfits — and in recent days, the small boy has helped rally the Belgian people together, his steady stream an indicator of how they feel about terrorism. You can learn more on the CNN website.
According to my father, the souvenir first arrived in my grandmother’s house in the mid- to late-1940s, a gift from two people who’s story is as legendary as that of the statue itself.
During World War II, my grandfather’s cousin was stationed in Belgium, a cook in the kitchen of a US army unit. While there, a young, attractive Belgian woman helped him. They spoke — she told him of her family and their experiences while under Nazi control and of how they were managing as the war rolled to an end. He would pass along food to her so she could feed her family.
Love bloomed in the most hardscrabble of soils. They eventually married, and he brought her to the United States, where they made a life for themselves and raised a family.
As I puttered about the yard, weeding and pruning, it occurred to me: gardening can be hard work. Being human can be hard work. Finding the best of times in the worst of times can be hard work.
No matter if it’s an actual garden, a relationship, a community, a nation, a world — there is always work to be done. Seeds need to be sown, plants need our constant attention, and soil needs to be improved.
I know it’s easier said than done, but as gardeners, we must. As human beings, we must. If we don’t, we’ll have a world without flowers . . .
And where would we be without flowers?
Speaking of flowers, where would Belgium be without them?
This is a postcard that I purchased while traveling through Belgium all those years ago. It’s an image of the Flower Carpet of Brussels. Every two years, 100 volunteers spend four hours creating the carpet, using thousands and thousands of Begonia Tuberosa Grandiflora.
As chance would have it, the next carpet will be on display this August 12 to 15th — and after recent events, I’m sure the Belgian people will make it all the more special.