Once You Read This You Will Know More About Me Than I Ever Intended for You To Know

Two posts in one day but this one has been a long time coming. I am just going to do it and then I will pace the house until my legs are tired and I will never sleep again.

————————

The Front Yard

We call it the front yard for lack of a better term but it is quite unlike the other front yards of the houses that surround our townhouse complex or our old yard on Bunting Road. It is a vast expanse of patchy lawn that extends across the front of our block from #61 next door to The McVale’s down at the other end, divided by narrow walkways between every two doors.

I’m embarrassed and ashamed of the front yard. I’m ashamed to be one of the townhouse kids, although ours isn’t the worst of the area. I’m ashamed of my parents who are crass and loud. Their crazy spills out onto the lawn. No further ornamentation required. I’m ashamed of my mother, screeching across the greenery in her housecoat with last night’s broken Mohawk flopping over her face.

I hit you with the fly swatter to keep from hurting my hand.

I’m ashamed of my father, the loser; his desperation to be accepted by other losers is sickening.

The problem is I’m a good guy, and good guys always finish last.

And by extension I am ashamed of myself.

The front yard is our playground because the back yards are too small. We use it for sports and excessively aggressive games of Mother May I?, tag, and Red Rover. Someone comes by every once and a while to mow the grass, although I hardly notice or care unless it interrupts my play.

No one knows this but I like the sunny little garden underneath the front window best. There are plants, rocks, flowers, and the occasional insect to explore here. The flowers are generic and bland, but they’re alive. They are something different, a small world to discover. They tell the neighbors that we haven’t given up completely. Not yet. I can bring my miniature dolls outside and enact fantastical stories while pretending they are in a small landscape on another world. I like this little spot more than the dead backyard and when I’m feeling daring, I play out here in the open where I risk exposing my flights of fancy and private pretendings to strangers.

One day, men in trench coats arrive while I am engrossed in a storyline that involves walking my Strawberry Shortcake dolls through the sedums (the most otherworldly plants in the garden). The men scurry through the front door uninvited and catch my mother in her housecoat washing the laundry.

I keep playing but I know something isn’t right.

When I get up the courage to go inside I find the men pulling the house apart and my mother whimpering at the kitchen table. She blows her moist nose loudly into a giant wad of toilet paper and motions for me to come close. I stand next to her dutifully as she whispers instructions into my ear, “Get rid of those plants in the backyard.” I know exactly what she means (and why) without being told. I am too young to know. But I know. I know lots of things I shouldn’t know.

Outside, one of the men, an undercover officer, calls out to me from the bathroom window – “Hey, girl!” I run through the back gate with the wilting plants in my hands and my heart racing. I am panicking. I am hoping to find a place to stash the contraband. I have to get away. I have nowhere to go. I run to the edge of our block where a group of younger kids are playing. There is a small hole against the foundation of the last house and I toss the plants in there. Out of my hands! He is right behind me. He has seen me; he’s seen it all (and so has the neighborhood, my entire world), but I play pretend in my mind and I’m almost not there at all.

The policeman scoops the plants and leads me back to the house.

My heart is pounding. I am going to jail. He asks me what I am doing. I don’t know how to answer. I can’t speak. I’m half in my body and halfway to somewhere else. He asks me if I know what the plants are and I feign innocence. I tell him about the policeman that came to our school armed with a bulletin board decorated with tiny Baggies of dried leaves and small pills all tacked to it in orderly rows. I wanted to get close to that bulletin board to see if the little pills and specks of green were real, but even then I knew not to get too close to its contents or the policeman. Hold your head down and leave quietly. Do not be precocious. Do not let him look you in the eyes. Do not be smart. I tell him this truth within a lie and hope that I have fooled him.

The truth is that I’m a bad kid who knows too much. I can’t tell him that I know what it is because I’ve been watching my parents and their friends roll and smoke it for as long as I have had memories. I know I can’t tell him about my friend’s dad and how he pays us a few dollars to gingerly plant the teeniest seeds in small pots of soil or that I have watched beautiful seedlings emerge from these same pots underneath blinding lights in their basement. I love the pots. Later, I sneak downstairs alone to watch them. We spend the money (my best friend and I) on candy bars, popsicles, and soda and it would be unwise to let him know that I enjoyed it (the sweets and the planting). I can’t tell him that I was able to identify these same plants the very minute I spotted them coming up in our backyard or that I like the little plants, and took a special responsibility to their care almost immediately. I can’t let on that I know they are illegal and that I am intelligent enough to know what illegal means or that I understand the meaning of jail. I can see into his mind through his eyes and I know that he is looking down on me with pity – “One of those trash kids, just like her parents. Such a shame really.” – I know he thinks I am just the sort of kid who will end up in jail and what it means to be seen as that sort of kid.

I don’t want to be that sort of kid.

I know in my gut that no matter what, I will always be seen as that sort of kid.

I am ashamed because I like those little plants and I don’t think plants can be bad, although I fear them as equally as I delight in them. I know the cop thinks they are bad and the cops are the Law. And the Law is power. I am bad, too, because I am disobedient in the face of the power of the Law. I don’t believe what I’m supposed to believe. I don’t feel the way I am supposed to feel.

I deserve to go to jail because I knew what the plants were (a good kid wouldn’t know) and I liked them anyway.

—————————-

Addendum: Before I lose my courage, I want to add some context or an afterward. When I wrote the above story, I tried to access my child-brain feelings about the experience, which are obviously a bit different than my adult ability to intellectualize and put things into greater context. Firstly, I still think that cannabis is a beautiful plant, that the war on drugs is BS, and I don’t cast any judgment on those who use it. I also don’t hold anything against my parents because they smoked weed or sold it. My stepfather never should have gone to jail and our family should not have been put through the trauma of having our place ripped apart and a shadow of shame cast over us for it. I do, however, hold against them the fact that they were the worst sort of parents for a myriad of other reasons.

For years people have been asking me about my background as a gardener. I have long felt that this was an important experience that shaped me (for better or for worse) in a way that is integral to who I am as a gardener, a garden writer, and beyond. The residual shame that is a result of my upbringing has been one major reason why I was never able to tell this story, but its omission felt too great. Years ago, when a camera crew was at my house shooting a documentary that delved into my past, I grappled with telling this story on camera. I couldn’t. I just didn’t have the words. And at the time I was struggling greatly with being an outsider, an uninvited guest to the gardening world that had crashed the party and long overstayed my due. A close friend said I’d have to tell it eventually, and she was right.

All gardeners have their Genesis story/stories. My first was a parsley plant that I grew in a styrofoam cup from seed as a part of a Sunday School lesson that I no longer recall. I can recall the most minute details about that plant though! This is my other Genesis story. The next stage. The one where I learned more about the hierarchical culture that we humans have shaped around plants. How we experience them ethnobotanically is fascinating to me now. I may never had come around to seeing plants in the way that I do without having had this experience. For that I am grateful, even if working through all of the baggage surrounding this stuff is a life-long work in progress that I often resent.

An Addendum to the Addendum: Whenever you tell a story based in real life experiences, you have to pick and choose the details that are used or not used in order to hone in on what you want to say and tell it well. Of course, within and beyond the story I told here is a bigger story of my childhood as a whole, the neighbourhood I grew up in, my parents and who they are/were…. In telling my story I left out most of the details related to how the plants got there in the first place, why we were searched, what happened afterward…. Those details detracted from the point and they are adult details. I wasn’t telling the story from an adult perspective so I left them out.

I debated whether or not to add some of those details here but since people have started writing about it, I thought I’d make it a little bit clearer for the sake of context. I’m not going to add anything more beyond this. I want it to just be what it is and not a complete retelling of my life story, an indictment of the war on drugs and how it has needlessly ruined lives, or a moral tale about the consequences of breaking the law. That is neither here nor there in the telling of this particular story.

Our backyard was a postage stamp of a thing that was mostly comprised of patio stones with a thin strip of “earth” along one side that was mostly in the shade. My parents were not gardeners or Marijuana growers. They were recreational pot users, that one day, happened to toss a couple of seeds that were in the bottom of the Baggie outside. And amazingly those seeds grew! This surprised us all, since nothing had ever successfully grown in that scraggy little patch of nothing. You see? There is another story in there about the resiliency of plants.

The police did not come to our house and tear it apart that day because of the plants that were forming in the backyard. By then they were probably only about a foot or so high at most. I doubt anyone noticed or cared. Knowing what I know now as a gardener, I very much doubt those plants would have yielded anything worth smoking or selling.

All of this took place in the early 80′s. The laws regarding Cannabis control have changed in Canada since then, although given the circumstances, I’m not sure if the results would have been different.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

Subscribe to get weekly updates from Gayla

95 thoughts on “Once You Read This You Will Know More About Me Than I Ever Intended for You To Know

  1. This may be the most heartrending, beautiful & sad thing I’ve seen written online in a long time. That was an awful lot for such a young girl to process.

    I hope that writing this gives you some peace. You deserve it.

  2. Don’t stress
    Go to bed
    They were plants, that’s all, not AK47s.
    Look at all the good that’s come from you learning to grow things.
    You were doing what your Mum told you.
    Thank Mother Nature for kids like you.

  3. Gayla, good for you for getting this out! I grew up in a family that had a similar garden, and I remember the shame and weirdness that came along with it. The worst was finding a joint in the waffle iron one day when I was little and one of my friends was over … I have no memory of how I explained that. You’re not alone!

  4. Don’t stress.
    Sleep well.
    They were plants, not AK47s.
    Think of all the good that’s come from you learning to grow things well.
    Thank Mother Nature for kids like you.

  5. It’s hard to face the uglier events of childhood. I applaud your courage to face and embrace yours. Obviously you have been strong enough to see how they have helped shape who you are today.

  6. I’m so sorry that you had this sad, scary experience that tinges the passion you have for growing things. You weren’t bad. Your parent’s plants weren’t bad. Your parents weren’t bad, and the cops weren’t bad. It WAS a very bad situation for you to have been put in. And I’m so sorry you felt so stressed. What a sad story, and what a great story, told so well.

  7. I’m sorry you went through all that. but one, you were a kid and it was not your choice. Two, they are plants and should not be illegal to begin with. They serve a medicinal purpose for those who NEED it. There are those who abuse it like anything else but they abuse the legal drugs as well. Whie we may obey the law that does not mean we should let it define us. We know if we are good or bad and I cant help but believe you are good. Chin up!

  8. Gayla – awwwww mannnnnnn! I don’t even know what to say. I am being pulled all different directions…feeling sorry for this kid…admiring this beautiful writing. Growing up in shitty households, it’s the stuff of great literature, Gayla. This is beautiful. And I’m ashamed, too.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. Not only were you brave to share something so personal, but you wrote it beautifully. I’m sorry you went though that, but look at all the beauty and joy that came out of you learning how to grow things. Where you started doesn’t matter nearly so much as where you have ended up.

  10. Gayla that was such a beautiful and heartbreaking story. It seems like its one you’ve been struggling with for a long time. I am not a writing expert, but this was enthralling and moving and, just fabulous. I hope having published it here will give you peace about it. You know that we all look up to you, your writing, your knowledge about gardening, your style, your independence, your ability to appreciate simple things (like a bee on a flower) and then to write about and photograph it so that we all learn to appreciate them to… you know that right?

    I guess I was “lucky” and had managed to avoid relatively traumatic childhood events, so I can’t truly relate to you on that front. However, this story, seeing the scene through your childhood eyes, is also a good reminder for all of us that we must not judge people especially based on their circumstances, where they live, how they dress and communicate, or even the legality of their actions (illegal things that hurt other people aside)…

  11. This is so interesting. Thank you for sharing.

    My stepdad, to whom I am very close, grew marijuana from the time that I was five until I was an adult. It started outside, but eventually became a grow room with timed lights. He had ordered the seeds from Amsterdam in the early 80s, and from there he cloned the plants. I was sometimes in charge of watering them, as a teen, when he was out of town. This was all for personal use and he never sold/gave it to anyone.

    Ah, these are fond memories for me from an otherwise tumultuous childhood, much like your own.

  12. So many thoughts are tumbling around in my head after reading this. And my heart is pretty full, too.

    I could say so many things — I’m going to pick the ones I hope you need to hear right now: you are a brilliant writer (and thinker), a brave, honest and generous soul, and an inspiration to do the hard work of unpacking & sorting through life’s baggage. Thank you for sharing this. And yes, as Eryn said, I hope you feel peace.

  13. Oh boy. Shame felt during childhood is so powerful. I am impressed with your honest and beautiful presentation of this experience. Thank you. It touched me.

  14. De-lurking to say thank you for sharing your story. If it’s worth anything, the first two people who spring to my mind when I hear the word “gardener” are 1) my dad, who gardens because he was born during the Great Depression and he hasn’t stopped growing food since, and 2) you.

    Thanks again, for all of your writings.

  15. That was stunning. I am fascinated with the way you managed to organically intertwine your evolution as a gardener with the story from your past. I am absolutely inspired to Blog my own earliest garden story. Not quite so dramatic, more lonely maybe.

    Well done.

  16. Just read your addendum, Gayla, and completely agree with you about the War On Drugs being BS. Also shaking my head that a cop would involve a little girl this way, to frighten you over something that had really nothing to do with you. So wrongheaded. I can imagine how terrifying that event was. Meanwhile, kids of parents who own liquor companies would never have been subjected to something of this nature, because *those* parents are fine, upstanding citizens that sell legal drugs. I love that you shared this story, and that you have a strong positive memory of the plants themselves. A genesis story indeed.

  17. I’m a lurker as well…so I have come out of the woodwork to tell you this: We DO all have our genesis story. Things we are ashamed of that helped shape us. I will honor your bravery by sharing mine on my blog. I really appreciate you sharing your personal story. It filled my heart.

  18. What an amazing woman you have turned out to be. Thank you for sharing and I hope it helped to heal that part of you, even if it was just a little. Sometimes, the pain never goes away but getting it out turns a raw spot into a mere ache.

    Lots of love…

  19. Gayla,

    We see all too little writing like this nowadays, and in our particular field — writing that lays the author’s soul bare. You are a brave woman, and an amazing writer. I can identify with shame, guilt, hiding or wanting to hide what your family is and what happens behind closed doors. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.

  20. My story as well, but with a legal substitute. Booze.

    The pain experience of knowing what is not right. Other families don’t leave the 7 year old home alone until 2 am.
    On TV the parents have meals for the kids. Having only a box of poptarts as the only food in the house is not like my friends house. Having my step fater go outside in his underware telling the neighbor to F— Off, is not what the other neighbors do.

  21. Thank you, thank you for sharing. I so much admire your confidence and courage and strength. You are beyond amazing, and inspire me to maybe try again to tell a story I’ve been trying to find a way to tell for years.

  22. There are so many wonderful comments to reply to here. I am grateful for all of you. You’ve made me feel less alone.

    I am most glad to read that a few of you are inspired to tell your own Genesis stories or amend those you’ve had a hard time telling. Please come back and link to them here if you post them and want to share.

  23. Thank you for sharing your story. Sunshine and roses is all fine and well… but the human connection is so much more important for many of us.

  24. Save the seeds — compost the rest, that season is done. Choose what you want to plant in this season, what you will keep as you begin anew.

  25. Excuse me, Gayla, but you are not crashing any party. I was just explaining to someone yesterday that I thought Grow Great Grub was really the only book anyone should ever need when it comes to finding out how to get growing. Plus you make the ordinary and homegrown/made look so beautiful. You were very brave to put your story out there. I hope sharing it took some of the sting out of it for you. xo jl (P.S. I’m really looking forward to your next book – I guess I do ‘need’ one more ;)

  26. Incredibly intriguing … I remember in my young years certain aromas that made the livingroom a happy time for all in that room.. Never knew then what we know now… A lot of baggage to carry for little ones… Beautifully written.. bravo…

  27. Strong and beautifully written. We are not our parents. YOU are not your parents. This post really speaks to something in me; we’re connected in this particular way, our backgrounds, our families.

    I marvel at the way you’ve turned your experiences (even this one, especially this one) into some powerful goodness that resonates in this world. You continue to amaze, Gayla.

  28. I’m not a regular reader of your blog (maybe that’s about to change) and I’m not sure how I happened upon this post but I really enjoyed reading it. I think most of us have a memory like this from our childhood. Yours is rather extreme and adds up to a bigger reality that has obviously caused you a lot of pain, but I can relate and remember that sense of “I do not belong” in the larger world of my childhood and the neighbors/kids at school. Of course now you’ve got me thinking about my defining moments as an early gardener…surprisingly I don’t know what they are, really. I’ll be thinking on this for awhile, thank you.

  29. Just like plants have to grow, stories have to be told. This is a Superhero genesis story if I ever heard one … a Garden Superhero. If there’s one common thing with gardening and writing it’s the therapeutic aspect of it. Not just for the writer/gardener but for those touched by the work as well. Your courage to write this and help others learn, grow and/or make peace with the past is much appreciated!

  30. I wish we could have swapped childhoods.
    I grew up on a farm growing things and hating it. The dirt, the fertilizer, the planting, the weeding even the harvest. You’d have thrived.
    How would I have dealt with your situation and parents? Who knows, but I’d do it just to put you where you’d have been so happy.

  31. We all have our stuff. I like to think of our stuff as seeds. Stuff/seeds get planted then has two choices…1) It can sprout, become transformed by light and rain and love and perspective, grow strong despite the wind and hail and eventually provide fruit that nourishes us and those around us or 2) It can remain buried, fester for a bit and go back to the earth without ever seeing the light of day. Thanks for choosing #1 and for choosing to share your story. Congratulations and weathering the storm. We all have our stuff.

  32. Brave, honest, raw story. I hope you find piece with owning your story. There are stories in all of us. Stories of joy. Of pain. Of shame. As we claim them and own them, the shame and pain lessens.

  33. Oh god, when I read the header I thought you were molested, or a closet bi-sexual shoplifter!
    Listen, neither of your “parents” will ever be on the Mental Health Week poster. However, you not only survived that insanity, but are now thriving as an adult. And, that is ALL that matters.
    You can’t change the past, only let go of the shame, anger, and fear. Also read NY Times piece about Humboldt County in CA home to some of the biggest trees and Pot plants on Earth! Pot is an agricultural industry out there.
    http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/25/the-high-life/

  34. Not all cops think its bad. My dad used to smoke with his buddy, a cop. But then again I grew up in Alaska where it was legal to grow it. It’s illegal there now too though except for medicinal purposes.

  35. That’s one of the bravest things I’ve ever read – childhood trauma can be the most difficult to talk about, and to do it in a public way is even more challenging.

  36. I love it when you share these hidden pieces of your childhood and the parts of your life that have inspired you to inspire others.

    It’s these details that make us see ourselves in you and relate to you.

  37. That took some courage and I hope you feel you can move forward now without it haunting you.

    However, I do think that seeing those seeds germinate as a young child is what got you hooked and does it matter matter the plant was labelled.

    I find writing about things that upset me or haunt me really helps sort my head out but always hestitate over the publish button. Saying that the time I have published I have got a bigger response to anything I have previously written and you find you arent alone at all

  38. Although I’ve always been a believe in illegal is illegal, what your parents did would probably have been almost, or soon to be, legal now. Every experience, even the worst ones, shape us as people. While some experiences may damage a child, others blossom out of the dirt!

  39. Brave, Gayla. And beautiful. And cathartic, I hope. Your work and your story are a much needed link between gardening as a mark of privilege, and gardening as it is needed and practiced in the real world. Thank you.

  40. As children we look to our parents to guide us, no matter what kind of circumstances we grow up in, no matter with what kind of parents. Your story made me sad, because as a child you carried so much guilt over something that you had no control and responsibility over. Your story also made me angry that the adults in your life put you in a position that made you feel like that (having never met your parents or know what happened after and how things were explained to you, please understand that I can only go by what you have written for my reaction). I am a police officer (and I speak only for myself, not my organization) and I often see scenes like yours, and I am often angry at the parents who care so little for the well bring of their children that they involve them in what is the parents wrong-doing. To me it is a lack of parental responsibility to keep children safe at all costs, no matter what. I don’t want to go into the ethics of growing the marijuana in the first place, but the fact that as adults they knew it was against the law and that something like that could have happened and they still choose to grow it where once caught, you would be involved in such a scene. The morality and legality of marijuana is often debated (and I refuse to get drawn into it, I see so many sides to the story of how all drugs including alcohol, affect the people I see in my job that I no longer know where I stand on any of it), but the reality is that here in Canada it is illegal and the police will continue to stop people from breaking the law until such time as the law is changed. I can’t speak for what the police officers you dealt with that day thought, but myself and my fellow police officers often wonder and worry about the kids we see in our jobs. I am glad to see that you had what it took to become more than your childhood experience. Thanks for sharing.

  41. THANK YOU so much for having the courage to share this, difficult as it must have been.

    The crazy thing about shame is that the more you hide it the bigger it can get, and the more you share the less power it has. I hope telling your story has been healing for you. Here’s a quote that has helped me with the occasional emotional bomb drop (you’re definitely not the only one!):

    “I have come to believe over and over again, that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood…. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you… and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.” – Audre Lorde

  42. Thank you for sharing this story, Gayla. You may have been planted in poor soil, but you’ve grown strong and beautiful.

  43. Very brave & strong of you to get that story out! I am betting especially after seeing so many positive, loving, beautiful comments from so many that your heart is lighter & you can start life anew.
    Take care :-)

  44. Orchid Girl: I think that my parent’s biggest mistake in this situation (and there were many both in this situation and well beyond it. As I’ve said, they were not caring, compassionate parents) was that my mother laid the burden of responsibility for her actions by sending me out to remove the plants. And once I was caught, and she was busted (she was charged, obviously, since I was a young kid), she made it very well known that it was MY FAULT that this had happened to her. My mother doesn’t know the meaning of the word responsibility.

    I tell this story for many reasons, but beyond gardening, I want it to be known that we should not judge people based on where they come from, especially children. Even at a very young age I was very clearly attuned to the fact that I was being judged unjustly because of where I lived and how my parents behaved. I was a very quiet, polite, and well behaved child. Many children that come from bad homes are not inappropriate and wild because they live in constant fear of abuse for misstepping. We talk about the cruelty of children on the playground, but it was adults who were often the worst.

  45. Hi Gayla – this was a beautiful piece. Great writing!

    I used to play in a corner of my parents’ garden imagining another world where little plants were trees, puddles were lakes and it was all mine. I guess my genesis story probably begins before I can remember, as we lived in the woods with a greenhouse and chickens when I was a toddler.

    Now that I have my first “real” garden, I’m overwhelmed by how much I love spending time in there. I could spend all day. I knew I’d like it, but I didn’t know I’d like it THIS much.

    Thank you for being you.

  46. It’s a beautifully written piece. You’ve done what all great writers aim to do: draw us into the story and make us feel what you were feeling, while allowing us (or at least me) to feel the connections to my own personal story. Thanks for sharing.

    I’d love to hear more about how you can see this experience’s influence in your current gardening practice and philosophy.

  47. This is a lovely piece. I read the original, and then came back today for the addenda. It honestly brought tears to my eyes to think about that little girl, and what she had to go through. And yet, you salvaged that love of plants and have really made something of value in your life — and not only your life, but those of so many others, as evidenced by all these comments. Thank you for sharing this. It has really added a dimension to your work, and to my thinking about the gardening world.

  48. Thank you for sharing this. I was casually browsing Facebook last night and saw the link to this, and once I started reading I had to sit down and read all of it. (Was reading it on my crummy little phone, but couldn’t pause to get on the computer.)

    It’s amazing what “parents” will do or say or blame on their children. That whole “You can pick your friends but not your family” is something I try to keep in mind.

    I’m not sure I have much of a genesis story as a gardener. It’s really only been the past two years or so that I got interested in gardening, and it has quickly snowballed into an all-consuming passion. My family always had a garden, most years anyway, but it was mostly my dads, and the most he ever involved me in it was planting beans or peas. I do remember, though, when I was very little, maybe four, going out to the garden and picking some strawberries in the morning. I remember sometime before that playing with a little yellow bus the size of my hand in the garden. Or playing with the burdock leaves by the edge of the driveway because they seemed huge and wonderful, like elephant ears.

  49. You are an excellent writer! I would love to read more of your stories about your childhood and how those experiences contributed to your love of gardening!

    Please keep writing!!

  50. Angelune: I find that gardening is a great way to stay connected or reconnect to our child-brains.

    Laura K: I’m working to do more writing on those topics, but it has taken me this long to gain the footing I needed to do it. I wrote this story a few years back and I never really intended to post it here, although I toyed with the idea. Putting it out there feels like a dam burst and I hope it will make it easier for me to write the even harder stuff moving forward.

    A lot of this include CLASS in a major way, a topic that lies at the heart of my experiences (and therefore my approach), however, I have always found it exceptionally difficult to write about.

  51. This is quite possibly the best post you’ve made. I applaud your honesty, and the storytelling is superb. It’s true – now we know more about you than we’re supposed to, and it’s appreciated! Thank you!

  52. People do judge and often incorrectly. I see in my job that kids who come from families with similar backgrounds to yours often go on to be better people than their parents. Some get caught up in the cycle, but they all deserve the chance to do well. I think that your message got through, and I don’t underestimate the courage it took to do so. I do think you made the right decision, I am a firm believer that role models come from the unlikeliest of places and you reach a wide range of people with your work. Sometimes all it takes for a child to succeed instead of following in a parents (bad) footsteps is for them to know that someone else who used to be where they were has overcome the odds and become successful in what they want to do. Your story is powerful and I’m glad you told it to us. Take care.

  53. I love this story, for me this is the story of my three daughters. They have seen it all as well…Fortunately I was strong enough to pull myself out of a controlling relationship and be a mother, a friend and a provider they needed and looked up to. Thank you for sharing a painful past with us.

  54. Gayla – Thank you so much for opening up and telling us your story. I’m a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, whether it be good or bad and that those experiences shape us to who we are today.

    5 years ago my father died of cancer when I was 15 and I’m forever thinking about what sort of person I would be if he were still alive today. Even through all the pain my family and I have been through I’m grateful in a way that he did die, because I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without that experience. I’m also certain I wouldn’t have started gardening had he still been alive.

    Gardening has been my therapy in a way and the feeling I get when I’m in my garden is is far more profound then what any drug could re-create. I have learnt so much about myself from gardening and it has helped me through the ups and downs that life has thrown at me.

    Once again, Thank you for telling your story today,
    Ash

  55. What a heart rendering story, I’m crying my eyes out, I empathize with your pain, how sad that your parents didn’t take good care of that dear, well behaved, little girl, I’m not up to sharing any stories of shame and trauma with people I know, let alone strangers, how brave of you, I hope it is a cathartic and healing experience for you

    I think of children and how eager they are to please, how hungry for affection they are, wanting to look up to their parents

  56. When we stop spending our mental energy wishing things were different and accept reality as it is, the path becomes clearer. When we feel Shame, the impulse is Hide. If we want to change how we feel, we do the opposite, which is Tell. You don’t have to hide any more. Only forward. There is no back.

    Strong work, Gayla.

  57. Sorry that you have carried it for so long in your heart. Let it go now… for whom did you hurt? You were the one who was hurt!

  58. Hi Gayla,

    Usually I dont comment blog posts, but there is always a first…
    Thank you so much for sharing this.
    I am a survivor of childhood abuse and violence. Back then, I had a vegetable patch in our garden, my sacred haven and my own safe place that helped me survive.
    Until today I find peace when I am gardening, an ability I just rediscovered a few years ago. Your books helped me to stop wishing for a big garden and to change my balcony into a jungle (a friends comment: “I am scared that something will grab and eat me out there!” No worries, its rather me eating my plants ;-)).
    It means a lot to me that you have shared your experience!

    Continue writing your amazing books, please!

  59. Thanks for sharing this, Gayla. I’ve been reading your blog for some time. It makes sense now how your work re-activated the wonder I felt as a sixth-grader when I planted a kernel of corn in a empty milk carton and watched it grow. You inspired me to join a local community garden four months ago and growing things has quickly become an important part of my life. (again)

    As the Tibetans say (sort of)…whichever way you grow, may you grow that way! Much love to you and your gardens.

  60. Many of us have stories we’re unable to share and yet haunt us always. Good for you for letting your story out and hopefully, by sharing this powerful story with us you will no longer be haunted by it.

    Long may your garden grow!

  61. Compelling story. Excellent writing! The last time I posted was when you wrote a similarly personal story – not as raw, but similarly personal – it was more about your Caribbean roots/ancestry and how that has shaped you. As I said then, I think there is a book of essays in you that relates in some peripheral way to gardening and the gardener you have become – not just about gardening itself. I hope you write it. One other recommendation – you might want to read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It is a jaw-dropping, true story that has the shame we feel about our parents or upbringing as a central theme along with, perhaps, the primal connection that we have to these very people from whence we came. It took stunning courage to write and I think you might benefit from Ms. Walls story. One last thing – I love your blog and benefit from it every day. Thank you for your work.

  62. What a brave thing to write … (even thought you are amongst friendly strangers)
    You obviously carry a few scars from your past, it reminds me also what you wrote about your grand-mother … these hurt feelings always lurking in your heart … nobody should underestimate how resilient and overwhelming these bad experiences from childhood can be … when you think you finally got over them, they show their ugly noses out of nowhere, again and again…
    Your surrogate parents were the green man and mother nature …
    and they were always able to soothe you, to teach you about the world and make you feel proud of yourself …
    and now you a real person (rarer than you think)
    … a sensitive person who is able to share something personal genuinely.
    When you feel gloomy nothing better than playing in the mud, and if you feel gloomy about your family, read “Matilda” from Roald Dahl (or watch the film)
    Thanks for making the world a better, greener, friendlier place.
    Take care
    Sandrine

  63. Wow. Powerfully, beautifully written Gayla. Blessings to that sensitive, imaginative child and the beautiful woman of character, substance, and depth she has become. Thank you for sharing this.

  64. I admire you, Gayla, for posting this and hope you continue to share in this way (if you feel like it). It’s a very moving story, and just so well-written. I applaud you for telling the whole story, not just the “nice” gardening stuff. Brava.

  65. Ciao Gayla-

    I’m so tremendously proud of you for being able to courageously share such a painful personal memory with us. You’ve inspired a great many of us to follow that example. There can be an incredible feeling of peace that comes from catharsis. There’s a lot of unconditional love here, cara. If any of us feel anything different towards you as a result of this writing, it’s a deeper understanding of your inner strength, although I’m sure you’d argue with me for saying that. The difference between fear and courage is simply that brave people punch through the fear and go ahead and do that thing, whatever it is, anyway.

  66. I want to commend you for sharing this story. I enjoy your blog site, and like a kid in a candy store, I always anxiously await your next posts. This was a real treat, a treat of appreciation, of aww and of beauty. You are an exceptional writer, and the way you put things together is a rare talent. My Mom just bought me your “Grow Good Grub” book, not knowing that I read your blog ALL THE TIME! Being the kindergartener gerdener I am today, I can really use the book. from my first crop, I yielded two tomatoes, one summer squash, two honeydew melons and two, VERY SOUR cucumbers. With all that said, I will not give up!

    Back to this post…I took away from this story, this experience broke you open and also was critical to defining the awesome gardener that you are today. All of your viewpoints on pot, I completely agree with. Like most of us, I too have walked down a bumpy childhood path that has defined me today and set specific standards that I follow as an adult.

    Cheers to pulling through a traumatic experience and becoming the successful, awesome person you are today! Thank you for sharing!

  67. *HUGS* for the child that you were and for the powerhouse of a woman that you are now! i am honored to bear witness to the parts of yourself that you chose to share.

    i hope that you ate something exquisite after writing this and took a long nap.

    love and peace to you!

    ~sidenote~
    if you haven’t already read it…you might be interested in reading Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

  68. Last January, as I was trapped in my home in the snow, I decided that when spring came I would plant a garden. That day of being trapped inside with nowhere to go was a metaphor for everything that I had experienced throughout my life. My garden, my tiny, struggling garden, has been my freedom.

    There are days when I look at my garden and I want to quit that too. But when I am in it, on my knees, with my hands in the dirt, my soul is so happy. It is the place where I am allowed to fail. It is the place where I can grow. My garden connects me to something more primitive, to the place and the dirt that I came from. It is my ability to create, to sing.

    Thank you, Gayla, for sharing your story and being an inspiration.

  69. the “lucky” ones are those who are given chance to experience life. I too want to read more. more. more. more.

  70. Stumbled upon your posts today and am glad I found this one. I share your experiences of finding camaraderie, safety, innocence & integrity in a simple patch of living things though forgotten or neglected elsewhere. You captured it well! Whatever personal or professional risk you took in telling this part of your story, I am glad you survived and have flourished. Me, too!

  71. Kudos to you, Gayla. Sharing the stories that we carry around with us in the pit of our stomachs is so hard, and so healing. You grow girl.

Comments are closed.