Friday meditation to Saint Anastacia: Where there is faith there will always be resurrection. Resurrection is the capacity to break free from suffering and despair to move both physically and mentally to freedom.
Anastacia, holy Anastacia, You who were borne by Yemenja, our mother, give us the strength to struggle each day so we may never become slaves, so that, like you, we may be rebellious creatures. May it be so. Amen.
On Fridays Aria searched for young plants on the periphery of the house that needed tending too. She’d water them, or even relocate them to more fertile or allowing patches of soil. This was part of her Friday religious obligations, one that she loved the best.
Over the past three weeks, Aria took notice of the changes when she looked down from Kiev’s studio fire escape and saw the neat little corn rows of dust and the woman delightfully talking to herself. She had such a beautiful face: pecan-colored, long fingers and hands. Aria bet she smelled of Ponds and Dove soap. Aria began to spend more time lingering on the fire escape watching and filming her, who she thought didn’t notice her. She was drawn to the making of this new garden and this woman with stories. The desire to be a part of it blew a breath of life into a few of the pieces that had gone dry. If she had to be here in New York, temporarily, she wanted this to be part of her experience.
She transitioned down to standing on the corner between the garden and the brownstone housing Kiev’s studio. She was ready to make introductions and thought to bring a gift for the garden to persuade her way into a friendship. The stories Aria overheard her telling the earth always had something to do with remembering and letting go. Aria recounted that ginkgo trees had something to do with memory.
”Hello. Excuse me,” Aria said shyly but with excitement.
“Oh, hello doll. You’re that girl with the camera aren’t you?” The woman paused from working the lot, placed her hand on her hip and leaned in to get a good look at Aria’s face.
“That’s a mighty smart-looking hat you got on.” Aria wore a small beige and brown pill hat with mesh netting.
She pulled a small ginkgo tree from behind her back and placed it between her and the woman.
“This is for the garden and you. I was wondering if…yes my name is Aria and I have a camera. I was wondering if I could help you with the garden sometimes?”
“Well if that isn’t one of the most wonderful of gifts. And look at this ginkgo tree! Just what the ole’ girl needs, a memory tree to place all the remembrances from the past and present.”
Who was the ole’ girl she was talking about? Aria asked herself.
“You come by whenever you want, darling. You are always welcome. Eloisa’s my name, doll. Pleased to meet you.” Eloisa had a large gap between her two front teeth.
Aria noted that she didn’t ask her about her accent or where she was from. Perhaps she wasn’t paying attention. “Can I help now?”
“Okay. Let’s plant this little tree. Where’s a good spot?” Eloisa asked the lot and waited for an answer much like Kiev and Aria’s communication. Aria observed reverently. “Sounds good. We’re going to plant it over here. Aria smell this.” Aria noted the slightly rancid smell of the Ginkgo. “We’ve got to balance that out,” Eloisa announced.
Eloisa planted the sapling in the middle of a number of fragrant shrubs and flowers including nicotiana and night-blooming cereus. The flowers formed a semicircle around the little stinky tree. It reminded Aria of when she met her uncles.
“Now smell. Better, but different. The combination of smells is like unsuitable lovers.” Eloisa announced. “Who knows, it may work out, like an arranged marriage.” Eloisa threw her head back, opened her mouth wide and cackled at her own joke.
Aria thought Eloisa was the opposite of Trish. She seemed to live a life connected to the earth, and didn’t mind the sacraments of dirt smudged on her body. In her mid 60s she had a thick crown of hair with only patches of gray. She wore her hair in a ballet bun or in two plaits overlapped on her head and wore coveralls or an orange maintenance suit. Best of all Eloisa acted as if her job in this little plot of land was as important and as valuable as the Queen of England’s. They continued to work in the garden as the sun arced in the sky.
“Now let’s see how else we can get your hands into the soil.”
As they worked Eloisa told her a lot about her life. Eloisa wasn’t the type of person to hold back on any information.
Aria found Eloisa used to be a seamstress who sewed for Broadway musical shows. She had a good eye for beauty and probably could talk the pants off of a judge. Born and raised in Vacherie, a predominantly Creole-speaking region in Louisiana, she aspired to be an actress when younger and worked hard on her diction, to cast off her accent. At eighteen, under the impression that she was in love, she married an airman whose mother had a problem with her skin color. Her husband, Desmond, slightly lighter in color than she, had hair with less curl. Though he was not passé blanc, his skin color in the south afforded him placement into a subcategory of higher class Negroes and with that mobility came more educational and job opportunities. From the day he brought her home, his mother’s remarks were relentless.
“I have told you from before you could even talk, marry up not down. She is too black. What about the children, you want to give them a good life or a hard life?” That’s what his mother said to him.
Eloisa chanted it as if she had told this story a million times before.
“I think he married me to spite her. Anyway, it got to him and he started drinking and then I had to get out from under him,” Eloisa said sadly.
Eloisa laughed, “You sure don’t say much, but you’re easy to talk to. I can tell you’ve listened to everything I’ve said too.” The sun started its lazy descent towards the west. She could see Kiev in the window trimming a block of clay. She gave him a little wave though his back was to her.
She wanted to know more about Eloisa and the garden. Aria wanted to know how Eloisa brought something dead and abandoned back to life.
“Do you own this plot?” Aria asked.
“No. Earth isn’t owned by anyone really. But I am not her original caregiver.” Eloisa paused to pull a stubborn weed. “Sorry you are being evicted,” she said to a morning glory. “As I understand the plot belonged to a family that lived in Brooklyn for a long time. The matriarch, that’s the woman-boss of the family, purchased the plot when it had a house on it and raised her five children here. This neighbor older than I, told me. The house got condemned several years after she died and the family tore it down. I heard their intention was to rebuild a brownstone then sell, but something happened and she just laid here. Morning glories grew like they will, little opportunistic diablos. They made their way along the fences, but nothing grew from the soil save some patches of grass here and there.”
“So they really still own the plot?” asked Aria.
“Yes, but they abandoned her. I just couldn’t turn my back.” She started working the ground with the hoe and humming up and down the scale.
Aria immediately began to feel a kinship with the garden as she listened to Eloisa and watched her work the ground. How similar Eloisa was at working the soil as Kiev was at working his clay. They both knew when the gesture was just right.