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Nellie McClung: A wait in the garden amongst the earth can yield wonders

This column originally appeared in the Victoria Times on April 16, 1938. When William White, at work in his garden, heard his wife calling him in, he dropped his hoe and went in, making some excuse to his daughters for his appearance.

This column originally appeared in the Victoria Times on April 16, 1938.

When William White, at work in his garden, heard his wife calling him in, he dropped his hoe and went in, making some excuse to his daughters for his appearance. He couldn’t very well tell them their mother had called him, for their mother had been dead and buried for a week.

But he could not ignore the call, either. No one ever called him “William” in just that tone and he couldn’t let Minnie call in vain, no matter what the girls thought. After all, Minnie meant more to him than anyone. Dead or alive, Minnie had the first claim on him. It was “William” she called for when the pain was heaviest on her. She often said he was better than any doctor. And “William” was the last word on her lips. She seemed to know when he was sitting beside her in the hospital, and after she could no longer speak he thought he felt a little pressure in her hand. So he stayed every night until the nurses put him out. Not exactly that, but they had a way of bustling around, getting ready for the night, and letting him know he should go.

And when the end came, she suddenly looked strong again and well and even young, and her hand closed on his. He knew what she meant. It was Minnie’s way of telling him she was just going on ahead, and she wouldn’t forget. Of course, he couldn’t tell that to anyone. They would think he was just an old man gone queer after his wife died.

People thought it was odd to see the old man so composed at the funeral. The girls hung around him tenderly, saying, “Now, father, you must be brave; remember she is better off.”

He took it all without protest, but William White knew better. Minnie had not wanted to leave him. She didn’t want to be better off. He and Minnie had talked about it many times, and he remembered what she said. So when he heard her calling, he always came, because she just might be back. Some people are gone when they’re dead. You know they are gone. But Minnie was different. Even the grave couldn’t blot out Minnie.

The spring came in the old man’s garden. Spring had always been an adventure to them. The grape hyacinths and crocuses were out, and the buds were getting bigger on the cherry trees and the larks singing high in the air, so full of joy.

Just then he saw the minister driving into the yard, and a feeling of impatience came over him. Not that he did not like Mr. Peters. No one could have spoken more beautifully the day of the funeral. But he wanted to get on with the digging. She had bought a lot of new bulbs that fall that he must get in. She always liked to have all the bulbs in by Easter. Well, he’d go on until he was called. Elizabeth would soon be out after him. She would be glad of an excuse to get him away from his work — always nagging at him not to get overheated, telling him he was not as young as he used to be and he must be careful.

He went on digging as hard as he could, with a real enjoyment in every stroke. The ground now, the soil, the good earth, had comfort in it. Mother Earth! No wonder we call it Mother Earth. God’s good gift to man. Minnie had often said she had no dread of it. It would lie easy on her and she knew she would hear the music of the rain above her head, and the song of the grass growing, and the larks. And she would know what the larks were singing about.

Just then he saw the Millers and the Stevens drive in the gate and he knew he would have to go in. Too bad they had to come on a nice day like this, when he was feeling so strong and keen at his work. Elizabeth would be all apologies because he was not dressed. Usually she hailed him in at 3 o’clock, for the neighbours had been good to drop in since Minnie went, thinking he was lonesome. He’d go on digging as long as he could. They could have their visit with each other. The spade seemed to lift the earth itself. Suddenly he heard her call, strong and clear!

Dropping his spade, he turned and saw her. She came down the path with all her old energy and radiance.

“You’re young, Minnie,” he cried in surprise. “How does it come you’re so young?” He knew then that he had never doubted she would come!

Minnie laughed and kissed him. “You’re young yourself, William,” she said, looking at him with her eyes sparkling.

They stood together under the cherry tree they had planted the first year they were married — the cherry tree on which the buds were breaking.

“Will you stay with me, Minnie?” he asked at last. “I know you will if you can, but can you stay?”

Her hand tightened on his, a young hand, firm and warm. “You will come with me,” she said. “we’ll never part now, William. It’s all true — all that the larks tried to tell us. The neighbours are all here,” she said. “I wish I could tell them. The front of the house is full of the saddest people you ever saw — all the neighbours. They think you are dead, William, just as they thought I was dead a month ago. Listen, William, and we can hear them. Mr. Peters is reading. Lovely words, great promises, clear as sunshine, but they only hope they are true. They would not look like that if they believed them.”

The words came through the open windows.

“Let not your heart be troubled. . . . I am the resurrected and the life!. . . If any man believe in Me, he shall never die! For we know If this earthly tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hand, eternal in the Heavens!”

But the people who looked out of the windows saw nothing but an old man’s garden, full of sunshine, cherry trees coming into bloom, and a spade still stuck in the ground, just as he left it, the day he was called.