Great mothers, like great gardeners, bring out the best

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 9, 2007

Mary Anna in her garden. Photo by Warren Harbeck

Benjamin Disraeli and a yellow daisy have conspired to inspire this year’s Mother’s Day column.

The yellow daisy’s role is pretty straight forward. As I was strolling about town at the beginning of this week, getting psyched up for getting down to writing, I popped into Cochrane coffee companion Cindy Mjolsness’ new flower shop, The Petal Pusher.

Cindy is passionate in her celebration of all kinds of flowers, but yellow daisies are her favourite. She’s also passionate in her celebration of people. After a short visit, I was about to leave, when she handed me a yellow daisy with the wish, “This is to inspire your column.”

Then, arriving home and placing the yellow daisy next to my computer, I happened to glance at a saying on my wall by the 19th-century British statesman Benjamin Disraeli:

“The greatest good you can do for others is not just share your riches, but reveal to them their own.”

That quote about life in general took on particular significance in the presence of the yellow daisy. It became a statement about mothers.

Though mothers often have strong aspirations for their children, wise mothers know that their child is not a clone of themselves. They respect the uniqueness of their child.

Such mothers are a lot like committed gardeners. They sense something of the inner beauty of the flower they are cultivating, though they cannot know all its mysterious intricacies. They do not try to manipulate and mutilate the flower into something it’s not – something fashioned after the gardener’s own agenda.

Photo by Warren Harbeck

(In Cindy’s case, though she really likes yellow daisies, she wouldn’t attempt to convert all her red roses into yellow daisies; she’d treasure the roses for exactly what they are: beautiful red roses.)

And so gardeners, too, rejoice in a blossom’s own special qualities: its variety, form, texture, colour, and scent; and they do their best to bring out its best – to reveal, so to speak, the flower’s own riches.

Of course, in understanding Disraeli and the daisy in this way, I have a bias: I think my wife, Mary Anna, is a perfect example, as supported by e-mails I received from our two sons in the process of writing this column.

Our younger son, James (39), is a great cook by any measure. His first attempts left something to be desired, however.

“How many mothers would let their thirteen-year-old son loose in their kitchen?” James wrote. “And how many, if he up and said he wanted to make something for supper, would let him? That's just what my mom did.

“Given the green light, I decided I would invent my own recipe. But enthusiasm is no substitute for experience, and what I served ended up being strange ground beef balls with a rather gross floury mess inside them, covered with a gluey mushroom sauce.

“What did she do in response? She didn't grin and pretend it was really good. And she didn't tell me I couldn't cook and should stay out of the kitchen. No, she gave me encouragement with corrective guidance; she showed me a few things about cooking – and using a cookbook – and for my fourteenth birthday I got the Larousse Gastronomique from my parents. Their reward: many much-more-carefully prepared meals thereafter. My reward: learning how to cook, and all that comes with that – among other things, it impresses women quite a bit, and especially my wife, Aina.”

Our older son, Reg (42), really likes the garden analogy, and he and his wife have become wise gardeners of their own family. He wrote:

“I think it's important to remember that gardeners help their garden grow in many ways. They not only nourish it, but they also prune back plants that are getting out of control. All of this helps a plant grow to be healthy and mature.

“In the same way, I remember much nourishment: reading books together, having conversations about matters of interest and importance, and just general caring and feeding (Mom's a great cook).

“I also remember a certain sternness when I was misbehaving. She pruned back my misbehaviour to allow me to develop into a more – I hope – considerate and responsible person.

“Of course, as I grew older and moved away, the time for pruning mostly passed. Yet the time for nourishment and caring never ends. And so I still know that whenever I visit I can expect a warm, welcoming hug, a great meal, and good conversation.”

So, there you have it, folks. Reg and James agree with Disraeli and the daisy: great mothers are like great gardeners, bringing out the best in what is entrusted to them. And our sons and I think my wife is one of the greatest.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mary Anna!

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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