Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Harvesting the Fruit of Charity

Most of my own gardening has been theoretical rather than practical these last couple of years. In theory, I have a tomato patch each year. Practically, however, this year has not been good weather for tomatoes, so we never put them in. In theory, I love roses; practically, I have a lot of rosebushes that thrive, thank goodness, on my neglect. I’ll step outside every once in a while and deadhead them to get another big show. Our weather is ideal for roses, even this year. I don’t even want to think of the grass. This year’s version of “going green” is actually going brown in my yard. And yet, we’ve trimmed a little, planted a little, pulled a weed or two.

You might think gardening takes patience. That’s part of the message of the 7 of Pentacles, pictured as a gardener resting a moment considering his crop. Like real life, patience is only part of the answer. After all, I have patiently ignored my tomato garden all year and voila! Not one tomato on a vine!

So the 7 of Pentacles isn’t just a story of patience. It’s about paying attention. It’s about planting the seed and not just walking away. It’s about investing in the future, giving something of yourself, your time, your labor, your resources, for a vision of the future. It’s about all the hard work in between the idea of fresh tomatoes instead of hydroponic red mealy-sponges from the supermarket and actually eating one of those juicy dead-ripe garden love apples. OK, so I don’t like grocery store tomatoes for the most part, it’s true.

But to get anything better than that, I have to invest something, if only in favors to my friend Geraldine, who, in spite of our non-tomato weather this year, has once again a stunning crop of the happiest tomatoes. They are running about one month late though. If I build up my tomato points with Geraldine, I’m hoping I’ll get a small treasure or two from her garden. She’s good to us that way. I’m happy to trade my meager computer skills or a ransom in chocolate for a decent tomato.

Last Saturday, during that weekend where Americans are reminded of labor and reward themselves with a break from it, my sister-in-law, my husband and I drove to Sonoma. It’s a pretty town with a plaza, history, fun shopping and nice restaurants. We had driven past the vineyards and talked about the grape harvest logistics, oohed and ahhed about the grapes on the vine, vulnerable to the whims of weather. Will it be a good harvest this year?

We had also been talking about the ideal hamburger and I remembered as we were walking towards the Plaza that Murphy’s Irish Pub has a really good hamburger. We all felt better after lunch and headed to our original target, the Church Mouse thrift shop. The Church Mouse has three locations in Sonoma and is the most fun place to shop in town. Finding something wonderful in a thrift shop always makes me feel clever, too, in spite of the evidence to the contrary. This time I came away with a vintage Dooney & Bourke handbag at a bargain price, excellent shape, serial number intact. Score!

Of course, I only bought it. The really clever people are the people who donated it to help the poor and the people who work at the Church Mouse to make it a successful venture. I only did the harvesting, not all the work that my gardener puts in for the 7 of Pentacles. But I like the fact that I got something I really like, plus the money helps people.

It’s a habit I grew to love while I was growing up in my mother’s antique shop. I never could understand the people who insisted on new things all the time, as if the fact that they were the first to use them made them higher quality. I always preferred used things, except maybe shoes and underwear, because it was like having new friends. Part of it was the sense of the previous owner that I get from a used object. Part of it was that sense that somewhere in the universe, someone liked what I liked. Even if I didn’t ever meet them, we had something in common. The responsibility to tend the tender harvest transferred to me even if I didn’t plant the seed. And, truth be told, I don’t like the newer Dooney & Bourke purses, all that cloth and color instead of the AWL (all weather leather) and where is the duck? Gotta have a duck. My new purse has been places I’ve never been, seen things I’ve never seen. And the zipper and trim are still in good shape. I should be so lucky.

Through Mom’s shop, I gained a perspective that I don’t really own anything. This should come as a shock to my husband who is by now pretty well convinced we have at least one of everything, if not multiple copies. They’re just somewhere in the garage which has recently been dubbed “Warehouse 13.” In viewing the artifacts of people’s lives, I felt more like a caretaker than an owner. The fascinating item was in our custody for a while, like the gardener tending the plant but unable to own the life force that is its essence.

One of the things Mom tended in her shop was a letter written by Thomas Jefferson before he was President. It was fascinating. It was part 2 of a 3-part correspondence between Tom and a guy he had borrowed money from. Part 2 was the explanation of why he couldn’t pay the guy back just yet but with heartfelt promises to make good on the debt. It was certainly a glimpse of our President that had never occurred to me. He owed people money. And he was optimistic about the future. How American of him.

When you have something like that, can you really own it? Anything we did with it was likely to damage it including getting it out into the everyday pollution that is our air and reading it in our sunlight which is likely to ruin it. So Mom did the only reasonable thing. Instead of selling it, she donated it to the university where she lived at the time so that others would get a sense of Jefferson the man instead of Jefferson the icon. And in a way that gift of hers is a better monument than any tombstone or statue. It’s a gift of the past to the future, an act of supreme optimism on the part of a veteran pessimist. I think of it as returning to the hands of the public. I could visit the letter anytime I wanted and so can anyone else. The fact that she gave it away was so much more important than the letter itself, the act of charity so much cleverer than the artifact.

Although I have to admit it is a little comforting to think of good old Tom and his credit problems, so modern.

My big girlhood crush, James Stewart, told people in It’s a Wonderful Life, our real treasure isn’t in cash. It’s in the investment in each other and in the future. That guy believed in Jefferson, enough to lend him money. And we all got paid back.

Best wishes.

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