Babushka’s Garden

I’ve been thinking about Babushka a lot lately. “Babushka” is our (loving) nickname for the elderly woman who lives across the alley. She’s from Bosnia and can barely speak English. She lost a number of family members in the uprisings years back and moved here to Cudahy, Wisconsin with some of the survivors.

I had great difficulty understanding her — I think she might have had a stroke at one time because her speech was somewhat slurred. But we still waved and smiled at each other across the cement. One time she came over and gave me two little figurines from Spain. They’re Spanish dancers, poised with flare and big smiles on their faces. I still have them sitting in my little knickknack cupboard. In her broken English, she told me that her granddaughter had brought them from Spain and that she didn’t like them so she wanted us to have them. “For the baby, for the baby” she kept repeating as she pointed to little John-John, her eyes absolutely aglow.

The thing I admired most about Babushka was her gardening finesse. Every year she was out there like clockwork the minute the soil had begun to thaw. I’d hear the chugsch… chugsch… chugsch… of the hoes and shovels as I poured my morning coffee and the schooosh of the hose as she watered while I ate lunch with the kids. She’d work hour after hour in her bare feet (regardless of the temperature), preparing the soil, planting, weeding, cultivating, and nurturing. And she’d end up with the most beautiful, abundant garden I’d ever seen — all on a small city lot no more than several yards one way and several yards the other. In the evenings, she’d sit on an old beat-up chair just outside her back door and take in the essence of her day’s labor.

Sometimes her family would come and help, but I never saw them doing a whole lot. I imagine she was so adept at it that there wasn’t much for them to do by the time they showed up. More often than not, they were sent away with bagsful of produce.

Ah, Babushka.

This year I didn’t hear the same chugschs and shoooschs. I noticed that her garden wasn’t nearly up to snuff and haven’t seen her on her rickety old chair. But I’ve been so busy with my own life that I haven’t looked into it. What a shame.

A few weeks ago while driving past the front of her house, I saw one of her daughters pushing her into the house in a wheelchair. Suddenly I felt so very sad.

This is the way life goes. We grow up, grow busy, grow apart, and grow old. In the interim, we try to find meaning, try to live our faith, try to discover God’s will for us, try to leave something behind that will be of benefit to others. We’re not supposed to be around here forever — we belong with our Father in heaven and we need to spend our lives in expectation of that.

The question is, what will we leave behind when we go? After a lifetime of chugsching and shoosching, what will we have to show for it? One would hope that we’d have bagsful of produce to hand out along the way. It would be awesome if, in the evening of lives, we’ll be able to sit on our rickety old chairs and take in the essence of our labor.

That’s possible for all of us, no matter what stage of our lives we’re experiencing, because our heavenly Father can make even the most dismally tended, weed infested garden prosper. All we have to do is kick off our shoes…

[This article originally appeared in the May 8, 2008 edition of The Milwaukee Catholic Herald and is used by permission of the author.]

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