Sarah’s Garden

By Catherine Gigante-Brown

Sarah's Garden

On the surface, Sarah and I were the most unlikely of friends. Born in Wisconsin, a pastor’s kid, Sarah was brand new to my high school when we first met. Me, I was a lifelong Brooklynite, full of sharp edges. If we were flowers, I would be a rough, rugged rose, growing defiantly in a concrete garden, complete with thorns and a bad attitude, while Sarah would be a carpet of well-tended marigolds: sweet, sunny and kind.

For some reason, Sarah and I gravitated toward each other at Fort Hamilton High School. Apart, we were misfits, but with each other, all of the missing pieces mysteriously fit together. I taught Sarah how to navigate the neighborhood with a native’s no-nonsense, stern, set jaw. She taught me how to embroider daisies onto my faded cut-offs. I taught Sarah how to eat Napoleon pastries on subway platforms with grace. She taught me how to make soup with herbs and tomatoes from her mother’s Brooklyn garden.

Yes, Sarah and I were very much like flowers; most young women are. But she was – and still is – the far nobler of the pair. She had a way with flowers and with people.

Somehow, in spite of ourselves, Sarah and I kept in touch over the years. I stayed in New York, attended a local college and learned how to be a writer. Sarah went to Midwest universities to learn how to help people walk again.

Physical therapy is the perfect career for Sarah: teaching school kids how to use their bodies after accidents or illnesses. They’re like the sprouts she so carefully tended, at first, in her little city garden outside of Madison, then on the land she and her husband Jim now have in the hills near Baraboo. I imagine the same determination goes into her work as Sarah puts into the things she grows.

Over the years, Sarah has sent me photos of her garden, and it’s always vibrant. She has a knack for helping things grow. When I moved into a row house, Sarah sent me bulbs to plant in my postage-stamp-sized backyard. To my surprise, they flourished. Every winter, I think they’re lost and every spring, they return.

When my mother died, Sarah sent me a heart-shaped wreath made of flowers from her garden. She even dried them by hand. Her note explained that the wreath was created both in memory of my mother and in celebration of my new love. Sarah’s wreath hung in the entrance of Peter’s and my new home until it literally fell apart.

Whenever we see each other, it’s like Sarah and I never left each other’s side. Many things have changed in the 40 years since we first met in high school – including us – but our friendship has only grown stronger, like thick-barked trees that get better with age.

Before my birthday in October, or sometimes around Christmas, a long, slim box arrives by FedEx. I immediately know what it is: big, fat, cloves of garlic from Sarah’s garden, braided at the stems. To an Italian-American like me, it’s manna from heaven. Every time I peel and chop the pungent garlic, I think of my old friend. I love the feeling that I’m taking all of that Wisconsin love and goodness deep inside, adding it to my spaghetti sauces, stews and casseroles, and feeding my family and friends with it.

When I started chemotherapy after my mastectomy two years ago, Sarah emailed me each and every morning to see how I was feeling. Even if it was just to say “Hi” or “Hang in there.” Sometimes the only thing that got me up and out of bed was the thought that there would be an email from Sarah waiting for me.

And after chemo was over, Sarah and Jim came to New York. She said it was to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, but I think it was mostly to celebrate my life and my health with me. While Sarah was here, hair began sprouting on my bald scalp, as delicate as new grass. That’s when I realized that I was one of the flowers in Sarah’s garden, too.

About this writer

  • Catherine Gigante-Brown is a freelance writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Her works have appeared in Ravishly, Industry, Time Out New York, Essence and Seventeen. She co-wrote two biographies for Prometheus Books and her short stories appear in fiction anthologies. Catherine’s first novel, The El, is available from Volossal Publishing.

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3 Responses to “Sarah’s Garden”

  1. Catherine, your story reflects the true meaning of friendship. I loved your ending…your hair began to sprout again. This is story is as tender as a bulb’s blossom and as strong as the roots.

  2. Rose Ann says:

    Great essay. Your story defines the very essence of a true friendship and the joy it brings. How lucky you are to have each other.

  3. Beautifully written. Sarah’s mom, Barbara, is a good friend of mine. Our families met in Alaska. Over the years and miles and life’s challenges, we have remained good friends. And we too pick up where we left off. So much more could be said, all so special and life giving. We always have such a good time laughing.

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