Pew

Hulda Hoover's Quaker Garden

            In the Quaker meeting house, people plant themselves in rows.  They speak only when moved.  Each person has a wholeness:  body, spirit, mind, tongue.  But each waits for that wholeness before speech might flower. 
            In West Branch, Iowa, Hulda Hoover sits on a plain bench with her second son, Herbert, through the winter of 1881.  The empty space between them should be occupied by husband and father Jesse Hoover, dead of a heart attack.  She cannot speak, tongue withering at what she knows others might call grace.  Grief is lonely and dumb, and she waits patiently for hope to bud.
            In the spring, she redoubles her efforts in the garden.  She takes in sewing.  Each time she turns over the soil, stitches cloth, sows and sews, she is making her future, the future of her children.  Her plants—from root, stalk, leaf, flower, and fruit—support themselves, and her.  They find their voices, bearing Hulda Hoover, who finds her voice.  She speaks eloquently, gracing the rows of her meeting house.  She sells her vegetables and fruits; she is asked to attend meetings nearby.
            Traveling, she is exposed to a severe cold.  Her lungs shrivel with pneumonia, then typhoid fever harvests her life.  In the Quaker meeting house, people do not know what to say.  Her children, Theodore, Herbert and Mary, alone even though surrounded, will take seed among relatives.  They will leave the hard benches where people face each other, silent and knowing, everyone waiting for the spirit to take hold.  Each will find a place to take root.

"Hulda Hoover's Quaker Garden" first appeared in North American Review

 

 

 

 

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