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.
14 thoughts on “Sowing The Seeds Of Love”
Thanks, Kevin – for a very touching tribute to a beautiful country whose people are in such pain. Just as the rest of the world united with the US on September 11th, so we unite with Belgium! I pray they will find comfort and be able to find a new ‘normal’ in their lives. Happy Easter!
What a touching memory. I was in the Netherlands this past fall visiting my daughter who was studying abroad for a semester. I was unable to visit Brussels but she had shared stories of the small boy statues and the people she had met there. My garden brings me solace and peace–something I was reflecting upon today as I edged the bed growing with my tulip bu
Koop! Growing with my tulip bulbs from Holland. I thought of our friends throughout Europe and wished them peace and solace.
Peace. The world needs that . . . Be well.
I enjoyed reading about your personal connections to Brussels, Kevin. How delightful to have your great-grandmother’s little statue, and I loved seeing the way the original fountain is costumed and bringing people together in a time of great stress and sadness. I realized this week how little I really know about Belgium. I think that spending time in a garden when we’re confronted by violence on the scale we’ve seen again this week offers us a way to feel like we can “tidy up” our own little world. We can repair the areas that need our attention and certainly add beauty. Not to mention that I do my best sorting and reordering the world when I’m lost in thought while pulling weeds. Now that Flower Carpet of Brussels is something unbelievably ornate and special. I will look forward to seeing the final creation. I hope you have a good weekend, Kevin! Thank you for such a thoughtful post.
Hi Debra. Be well . . . I sometimes think the whole world could use a garden . . .
What a thoughtful and inspiring post. My garden always brings me peace and hope, and I always think that a gardener cannot be anything but optimistic for positive changes at this time of year.
Hi Bittster. When working in a school, I would often put two students who were having an issue with one another to work on a common task. It would force them to have to deal with something else, and then have to deal with one another — and maybe get to know one another. Very often, I think we should put people together in a garden and let them work together . . . Sounds simple — but simple can work. Be well.
One of my favorite books owes its title to Atwood’s novel — it is The Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (Vintage Books, 1990), an award-winning social history of daily life in late 18th century New England, based on the diary of a Maine midwife, Martha Ballard, and it provides evidence that gardeners have long turned to their gardens for peace and comfort in troubled times. In the last years of the diary, as the 18th century turned into the 19th, social change shook the foundations of Martha’s world, bringing new and shocking levels of violence. At one point, in 1806, Martha wrote: “Mr. Heartwel informed me that Benjamin Petty was dead. His death was ocationed by Nathaniel Dinglys Strikeing him with an adds. What are we cuming to in this Eastern world?” Ulrich comments on this passage by noting, “That is a question she might have asked again and again in the next five years. And yet, as her own life drew to a close, Martha found an eye of peace in a heroic commitment to her neighbors and in a passionate, almost lyrical devotion to the small parch of earth for which she was responsible.” (p. 308)
Hi Jean. Perfect. Simply perfect. Thank you so much for sharing this. 🙂
Wonderful tribute. 🙂 My husband flew out of Brussels shortly before the attack. I’m so tired of all the insanity in the world. Thank God for gardens!
Thank you, Casa Mariposa. It does seem the world is getting increasingly insane, but I remind myself that it’s always been a bit insane — mostly because of people and how we treat one another. It’s much easier to be kind to one another.