It was late spring of Ali’s 42nd year. She telephoned, asking me to come over to see what her father did for her. Upon arrival at Ali’s wonderful old home of her late grandmother, I found her in this immense, newly turned garden all set for planting. To the artist in Ali this was a blank canvas, new brushes and a box of fresh paints. A finer garden spot one couldn’t dream of, yet from behind the shed she came with a weeding tiller. The metal part was antique but the long, gently arched wooden handles were new. My heart leapt back to my childhood as my father had one exactly like it, but by the time I was tall enough to work this labor-saving implement, it had gone by the wayside.
My younger friend and I were both caught up in personal reveries — harking back half a century and Ali looking forward to the summer’s yield of the garden her father had so carefully cultivated for her. There was something more to Ali’s behavior that piqued my curiosity. Without a word she took off with the refurbished tiller. I sat on the grassy garden edge and watched in wonderment as Ali swept down a row, pirouetted then returned, tilling a garden too young for weeds. ,The soft spring breeze tossed her hair and skirt. Her little bare feet pranced in the fluffy earth while with Herculean strength her delicate hands grasped the new wooden shafts of the tiller. How I wished more people could witness this ballet of the dancing girl with her tiller partner. She stopped briefly to say in the voice of a child: “Isn’t it beautiful. My dad rebuilt it for me.”
Now I understand Ali’s absolute joy. I quietly stole away, leaving her lost in planning the magical garden with her dad’s perfect craftsmanship in her hands. The grown child was in a heaven her dad created for her. I was thankful Ali was not in the Himalayas with that tiller, for her in her utter rapture the world would be plucking vegetables from the newly flattened Everest Gardens.
The greatest gift a parent can give a child is something to work with, to think with, to love with, and this her father did in so many ways. Above all else and with the most excellent reason, Ali adored her dad. Two brilliantly creative minds clashing and dancing and what a wild, endless performance it is for the most dramatic of sunrises and sunsets Ali will be painting. The cirrus clouds sweeping the heavens will be Ali with her tiller. Yes, Ali’s artistry has taken her to a faraway stage now visible to all.
Sweet memories of my dear friend Alison Bryant, Sept. 16, 1961-April 14, 2009.
Trina Kingsbury lives in Chilmark and contributes occasionally to the Gazette.