Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Farewell to Tasha Tudor

We had another loss this week: Tasha Tudor is gone. She was 92 years old.

I am a great fan of A Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett. I remember as a child looking at Tudor's illustrations through my copy, the thin face of Mary Lennox, the stout frame of Martha, the large eyes of Colin, the fresh spirit of Dickon. Tudor captured the very idea of a growing garden. She was a perfect illustrator for A Secret Garden because, like any character actor, that is how she was.

The cycles of things lend one to a nostalgia that meets us when we think of how things change. The world of Tasha Tudor was very different from my own. She lived in the world of my own grandparents. I have a photo of my grandfather with his horse and wagon taking vegetables to sell at the Eastern Market in Washington, DC. The farm his father worked to help the patients at St. Elizabeth's be self-sufficient is now a national park. I took my kids there recently. What was once a peaceful farm in farm country is now an oasis of the past in a sea of concrete, asphalt, steel, and grime. I remember being there as a child, vaguely; they used to give you hayrides and sorghum, and it was sunny there, I remember that. When we saw it, it looked so small. A corner of sanity in a world gone hard and fast. It seems all the world works like our own lives- the past seems so slow, quiet, and easy in a world growing increasingly hectic and hasty. Summers used to seem like lifetimes of warm air, wading in the river, listening to the whippoorwills, and watching the storms roll in. Now they flash by, and I'm already wondering how we'll be carving the pumpkins and what Christmas decorations to pull out.

I'm not a particular fan of summer. I like autumn better. I like the cooler days and the crisp morning chill and the scent of ginger, cinnamon, and warmed pumpkin on the air. Although there is something wonderful about the scent of my great-grandmother's rose wafting over the whole garden in early summer, when the green is full out yet still fresh and the air not too muggy. And I do miss the lush shade by the river, with moss beneath my feet or the cool, slimy river mosses as you stepped in to hunt for mussels in the shallows. The feel of the water swirling under my fingertips as I lay on the bank of the Emerald Walk. The dappled sunshine and damp sandy mud, the smell of the earth and the clay and the fallen-leaf carpet. I used to run down the path to the Starting Point, brushing aside the saplings, swinging down through the tree-trunks, down the rock face to the tree overhanging the river and the jut of the bank low enough to step in and start wading. I hardly touched the ground all the way down, feeling little but the speed of motion and the final splash of the water greeting my eager feet.

The tree is gone, and that lick of bank is washed away. The path is overgrown with no wild teenagers to fly down it. The whippoorwills are gone. The world changes, and hardly ever flows the way we think it will; sometimes we get caught in the eddies against the banks or swirled by the branches that dip into the stream. We have a great luxury in this country, of being able to stop and slow down and breathe now and again, to wax nostalgic and ponder the might-have-beens. Some of us hold the luxury of preserving things the world has left behind, or would leave behind if we failed to preserve them. A stroll along the Emerald Walk would not be the same as it was when I was young, and one day it will be lost under a reservoir the county has long planned to support a growing population of folks who would rather have streetlights than stars, who choose grass and sidewalks over blackberry brambles. I miss my mom's wild blackberry jam.


abfh said...

I recently re-read A Secret Garden and thought about how there was much more tolerance for people with different temperaments in those days; rather than being seen as disordered and defective, they were just assumed to be developing at their own pace.

Colin turned his head, frowning.

"Am I queer?" he demanded.

"Yes," answered Mary, "very. But you needn't be cross," she added impartially, "because so am I queer—and so is Ben Weatherstaff. But I am not as queer as I was before I began to like people and before I found the garden."

Of course, as you pointed out a while ago, many children back then would have been better off if they had gotten more help in one way or another. But there's something to be said for living in a simpler, quieter, slower-paced society.

I miss wandering around gathering wild berries too... one of these days I'm going to plant some blackberries and raspberries in my back yard, but still, it won't be the same thing.

Rhea said...

I never knew her books. I was most fascinated with her life and the way she lived as if it were the 19th century.