The Garden

Our garden was fenced all around, making it an in­tegral part of our home. It was a safe place for us to play hide-and-seek and red light, green light with our friends. The garden stretched over several acres and held a world of exciting discoveries for us: lum­bering turtles, tiny ladybugs, and slow-moving snails. One Easter morning, we found four newborn bunnies under the tall blue spruce that stood next to the house. A rock garden surrounded this majestic tree. A red gravel path, lined on each side by flower beds, led to the veranda. A large lawn stretched to the back of the property where there were swings and a sandbox. Plum trees shaded the area. In the fall of every year, the small, purple, juicy fruit of these trees was the main ingredient of my birthday cake.

A teacher came to our garden and taught us gym­nastics on the lawn once a week. My sisters and I would invite her to join us for picnics and tea parties under a colorfulumbrella. Most days my mother low­ered our lunch baskets to us on a sturdy rope from the second story window of the house. Each one of us had our favorite private spot where we ate our sandwiches. Mine was behind the gooseberry bushes. The light green berries supplemented my lunch.

Separated from the front part of the garden by a brick wall was the vegetable and berry lot. For meal times, the three of us took turns pulling carrots and onions or picking peas, beans, and lettuce, as well as cutting herbs: parsley, chives, and thyme. The pow­erhouse of my father’s weaving mill formed one wall of this garden. This spot was warm and protected; steam discharged from pipes that rested low, near the ground. Leaning against this wall were cherry trees that bloomed long before any other trees, and they formed a cloud of white blossoms veined in pink. The bees shared the sweet perfume of the blooming trees with us, and we were the beneficiaries of a yearly crop of dark red cherries which our neighbors and my family enjoyed.

In the back of the vegetable garden was a very old and quite large beehive that my parents had trans­formed into a store and playhouse for us. They painted the outside of this shack green and helped us sew red-checkered curtains for the windows and doors. We spent hours in our store, buying and selling and using the old scale my mother had found in the basement. Sometimes we were allowed to take our dolls and sleep in the playhouse. It was safe. Our neighbors were friendly, and we knew them well. Once we bedded down, Eva told us stories and got angry if Helga and I fell asleep before the tale ended.

This house also served as a sukkah—a temporary shelter created for the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. During the celebration, we decorated it with nuts and wheat. We did not mow the area surrounding our little house, so bach­elor buttons and yarrow grew in the tall grass along with poppies and yellow mustard. We were allowed to pick some of these flowers. We sold them to each other and used them to decorate our store. We hid in this meadow, caressed by the wind and touched by the sun, andstudiedthe sky.

Also in the garden was a large, black tank filled with rainwater. It had a spigot and dripped water into an old bathtub filled with dirt and worms. My father, the avid trout fisherman, assigned one of us the task of digging up worms. Reluctantly, we filled his tin with the squirming creatures so he could bait his hook and bring fresh fish for our supper.

If I woke early, I would wait for my mother to go out to the garden to pick berries for our breakfast. Silently, I would slip my hand into hers, obeying the finger on her lips, warning me to remain quiet so as not to rouse my sleeping sisters. The garden was barely awake, still dew-covered. A few birds sang, emphasizing the stillness and peace of that hour. The knowledge that I was loved and se­cure, surrounded by beauty and miraculous life, was strong at this moment in my childhood—but it was fleeting.

As the seasons passed and we grew older, our birth­day parties became smaller, and our friends no longer came to share the fun of balloons and candles. We were crestfallen the day when no one showed up to cel­ebrate and play blind man’s bluff with us on the lawn.

The rejection was painful, especially since we could not fathom why it developed. We wondered if we were at fault, what we had done, and how we could make amends.

Thencame the day my parents forbade us to visit or even speak to Herr Braun, the neighbor with whom we shared cherries and the north part of the garden fence. We were surprised. “Why?”

This friendly, nice man, who knew our names and always gave us his first sweet strawberries, no longer liked Jews. “Why not?” My parents couldn’t think of a satisfactory answer, but somehow, we related the absence of our friends to Herr Braun’s dislike of Jews.

Not long after that, somebody painted graffiti on our fence. Again, we asked, “Why? What does it mean?” My father patiently explained the meaning of the swastika and the unfamiliar, humiliating words the Nazis used.

None of it made sense to us. My sisters and I puz­zled over these strange words day after day. Then, the townspeople tossed trash into our garden. We couldn’t pick it up as fast as it came flying over the fence. When stones came along with the garbage, we no longer dared go out. Our idyllic life, the illusion of safety, abruptly ended. The beautiful garden became a wasteland. Why was our oasis, our garden, destroyed? Why did our friends abandon us? Why had our safe life suddenly become dangerous?

Available through the website

Order or visit the following stores:

Tattered Cover, Boulder Books, Denver Book Bar, Ole Firehouse Books.