Tuesday, September 25, 2007


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (9/25/07)

My first parish was in the hills of Kentucky where the cash crops were moonshine and tobacco. With no black church nearby, Miss Edith and Cousin Eva, members of the church, supported my efforts to welcome a black family into the church. The family was delightful, with the wisdom, warmth, and strength of the oppressed who yet believe. Well-liked in the village as long as they stayed in their place, they would’ve been rich additions to the church. Integration is, after all, a change of place.

Miss Edith resembled Popeye’s girl friend, Olive Oyl, only with cane, ear trumpet, and hearing aid. At the village post office, she often passed out birth control literature to worn-out country women trailing broods of tattered children. She always sat in the front pew, ear trumpet in place and hearing aid attached.

Cousin Eva, strong as a horse at 86, stooped, grey-haired, and bright-eyed, took care of a frail Miss Edith at 51. They lived in a large house on a “nob”, a term used in those parts for a small hill. With running water and a newfangled flush toilet, they flushed daily to conserve water. With their peculiarities they were dedicated way back in 1953 to racial integration, birth control, and, oddly enough, water conservation. Ironically, God seldom uses establishment, country club types, but rather the odd and seemingly daft.

While members of the church either supported or acquiesced to the invitation of the black family, the local sheriff’s deputy, leading a gang of rustic thugs low on the evolutionary scale, threatened to torch me and the church. Amidst midnight torches and burning crosses, Miss Edith and Cousin Eva, like Amos of old, cried out for justice in a wasteland. The state is a greater threat to the church than ever the church to state.

Life in other parishes, marches down State Street in Chicago, and demonstrations and jail in Selma, made me realize that integration enriches communities. As in food, it betters our palates with tacos, pizza, barbequed ribs, pot stickers, and even fusion cuisine in uptown eateries. And so it is with gardening. Integration is not simply mixing; it is integrating diverse elements into a whole. Look at the forest around us! It is an integrated organism, each species enriching the others.

An excellent model for gardens, the forest is not rectangular, symmetrical, or geometrical. It was not laid out with a rule, a T-square, or a triangle. Lines are neither vertical nor horizontal, boxing the mind, but lead the mind off on trails of imagination. In the forest, there is always a sense of mystery.

Rather than a buzz-cut front lawn, bound by borders, a wandering path of a sheep fescue, strewn with flat stones, amidst various tall grasses and pockets of irides and daffodils sets the mind and heart free. Curved lines, like the S lines of crouched skiers, are more powerful than straight lines, like the spent lines of vagrants leaning against lamp posts.

Some favor ersatz gardens of gravel, asphalt, and concrete whose rectangular forms stifle the mind and spirit. They spread no joy. They bear no welcome. They have no black-eyed Susans beckoning a mind to wonder at their annual beauty. They sprout only weeds on their barrens.

Speared gladioli and lascivious dahlia set amongst red peppers, dwarf Roma tomatoes, and purple egg plants are French cuisine for the eye with all the color, texture, and taste of meine Überfraus coq au vin.

Integrating a garden, ghettoed beds of flowers and vegetables can be brought together into a whole. Some vegetables make excellent flowers, such as zucchini and artichokes. A wandering line of yellow, purple, and red beets deeply colors a garden. And what a beauty is a sweet red pepper plant laden with fruit. Towering over the whole, serendipitous sentinels of dill add a sense of the ethereal, especially in mornings when seeds beaded with droplets water glisten in the morning sun as though they were crystals of ice. On the wings of our gardened mornings, we can sense eternity in a moment and in the twinkling of an eye fly to the uttermost parts of the universe.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

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