The Harvest

She bent over the small plant being prepared for transplanting, gently pulling it from the earth. The freeing of its fragile roots sent a tremor of excitement through her withered fingers. For long weeks now the secret had been growing within her like a child, and especially in these past few days every minute seemed full of the consciousness of the transition she was making.

Despite the gentleness of her actions, it was obvious that energy and strength permeated her slight, wiry body. There was a deliberateness to everything about Georgia, from the way she expressed herself in careful and measured words to her practical hairstyle—a tidy knot at the back of her neck. The bright sun glinted on her gray hair as she bowed her head over her work. “Steely gray,” Carl had teased her. “Nature is giving you away in your old age.” He had always been able to find the keen edge of her personality under the calm speech and movements.

A vine hung heavy where, under elephant-eared leaves and the traces of a few fallen blossoms, a thick yellow squash lay in late summer beauty. She felt akin to that ripe and fully developed fruit and understood its slow change or waiting for change better than the laughing and playing of her grandchildren, who chased across the lawn. And yet never had all God’s creation seemed more real to her, more substantial, than in the past month. She wondered why she felt at once more a part of the world and yet so removed from everything she had before perceived as “real life”; then she would remember that heaven is only earth perfected.

So it was upon her now, the moment that as a girl she had vaguely assigned to a dim future. Odd, how clearly she could see the mind and soul of that girl, and recall the taste and touch of those days. Why, her whole life was at her fingertips now! She wanted to laugh for pleasure at the discovery. At younger times in her life there had been occasional moments of illumination, a moment out of time—“milestones” she called them now—when she had recognized suddenly that she was crossing one of those finish lines mentally set up by a younger self. Coming out of the temple with her arm in Carl’s, twenty-one years old, she had said to herself with a shock, “Why, I’m married!” A little girl inside her cried, “But that’s not for years yet!” while another part of herself danced for joy in the bright reality of life’s progression. It was quickly forgotten.

She was brought back to the present by the sound of a child’s shout near her ear. Seven-year-old Dan had brushed by her in an attempt to elude his older brother in a game of tag. Their active little bodies seemed unaffected by the humid New England air; they had been running in and out of the heavy green bushes for ten minutes now, their energy undiminished although they were sticky with sweat. Not more than ten yards from her sat her daughter Karen with the youngest grandchild. The baby looked at his grandmother with blueberry eyes, and she looked back at him with eyes of the same soft frosty blue.

So lately come from God—a thought, a line perhaps, that might blossom into a poem; but then, she rarely wrote now. It would be entered in her journal, which grew more cryptic with each successive day.

Was this how it felt, my soul, my self,
As you stood on the brink of eternity,
About to plunge into this moment on earth,
So many years, one minute, ago?

Another fragment which she had recorded and left unpolished, uncompleted. She no longer felt the need to express herself coherently in literary form. And there was a twinkle in her eye as she shut the book firmly after each entry. I’ve lived long enough, no time for anything but the thought now.

All her energy and creativity went into and stemmed directly from the garden these days. Her canning, cooking, and pickling made constant gifts to the neighbors. Most days she was up at dawn, working and watering and weeding, on her hands and knees, in direct contact with the abundance of life in summer’s dying days.

Death, as such, was not uppermost in Georgia’s mind. Indeed, the word itself, with all its usual connotations, scarcely crossed her mind. But this was a peace hard come by; she had twice had to conquer such fear in her lifetime.

She first had to struggle with that obscure enemy in her childhood, sometime around the date of her baptism. One day in August, her father had decided to take the children to see the Great Salt Lake. The five of them (it must have been all five, she later reasoned, but somehow she could only remember Dad and herself in the little car) traveled for hours and endured the thirsty dust-choked miles until they arrived at the lake. She vividly remembered the blinding white wasteland of salt flats which greeted her vision. Dad paused awhile to let the children appreciate the full impact of the scene, then began to speak.

“This place,” he stated, “is thousands of years old, maybe millions. And it all used to be under water, under the sea. That little puddle,” another wave of his hand indicated the fierce and burning lake, “is all that’s left of it now.”

She had wanted him to stop, but a horrified fascination made her hang onto every word. She felt small against the immensity of the world. All the way home she huddled close to her father’s warm and sturdy body under his coat. But she felt that even he, burly and powerful as he was, could not protect her from the enormous and crushing weight of the universe. Still, he was the link with a comfortable reality, assuring her that not yet, not yet, would she be devoured by eternity.

How and when the fear left her she did not really know, except that as she grew in her understanding of gospel principles, the Resurrection became a truth full of light and hope. And through all the tragedy the years could bring her, that strength never left her, until one morning sixty years later when she woke and found that Carl no longer breathed beside her. He was dead, and the simple fact that he had gone without warning was a shock that nearly devastated Georgia’s time-tempered spirit.

At first she felt she would be helpless until she was again with Carl, and, abandoning after the first vain attempt the hope of bringing him back to her, she cried and demanded that she be taken with him. How long her cries lasted she did not know. She was like a child who will not listen to reason but sobs in frustration at the one doorway she has been denied.

When it ended, and reality began to set its cold grip on her, she went numb. For weeks she carried out her activities with an unperturbed countenance, but she saw and heard little and felt nothing.

It was about six weeks after his death that Georgia went outside and looked at the garden—Carl’s garden. In the morning, when dew lay scattered in the grass and on the spider’s web, when moist August still hung heavy in the air but September waited in the sky, she looked at the garden and saw how it had been neglected. Carl had always taken such pride in it, pouring out hours of labor on the fruits and vegetables. She had let him alone—“You’re the one who’s good with growing things”—and had done the canning when he brought her his prizes.

She didn’t know the first thing about gardening, she told herself now. But there were weeds running rampant among the carrots, and it didn’t take more than a glance with her meticulous housekeeper’s eye to know that she could tidy it up, “Even if I kill the vegetables too.”

Taking a spoon from the kitchen, she went out the back door. As she went down on her knees in the soil, she felt a breath of mild air like a welcoming spirit rise up from the earth. She bent over her work and applied herself vigorously to the stubborn tangle of growth, heedless of the rising sun that beat down on the back of her neck.

Hours later, she stopped, hands pressed to her throbbing temples as purple and yellow blotches appeared before her eyes. There was dirt everywhere—under her fingernails and ingrained in every pore. She sank onto a sagging porch chair and let exhaustion wash over her in waves. But when it receded, her first awareness was of the hope that had slipped in like a slim ray of sunlight through thick clouds.

She became aware that the shouts of the children had ceased. Dan and Matthew had flopped down on their stomachs in the grass and were stalking black ants. She wiped the dirt off her hands and said, “Why don’t you all come up on the porch? I’ll bring you some lemonade.”

As they sat and sipped at the frosty glasses, the women’s conversation was punctuated by the high, excited outbursts of the two boys. Georgia and her daughter talked quietly, of seasons and projects, of husbands and children. Karen gently jogged the baby on her lap. Suddenly she said, “Oh, Mama, don’t ever leave us. We need you.” Georgia felt a tug at her heart. For an instant she felt a keen pain at being called to two homes. She took up the pitcher and went into the kitchen to mix some more lemonade.

When evening had come and the grandchildren were gone, Georgia began making her usual preparations for sleep. But she interrupted her routine as she passed by the screen door. In the uncharacteristic manner that took hold of her more and more these days, she turned dreamily and looked out over the darkening yard. She moved out to a porch chair and lowered herself slowly. A cricket whirred up the scale to a long high note. She sat there until the last light faded from the sky and darkness enveloped her. Some yards away, before her unseeing eyes, the invisible garden ripened slowly toward the harvest.

[illustration] Illustrated by Allen Garns

Jennifer Dix, a free-lance writer, is the choral director and Cultural Refinement teacher in her New Canaan, Connecticut, ward.