NOT ALL OF MY CLOSEST FRIENDS ARE HUMAN. For me, friendship requires some degree of comfort and support, a whole lot of encouragement, and the inclination on the part of that friend to get you out doing things. And on those terms I have some marvelous friends, among them, my garden boots.
My red Hunter boots were purchased 26 years ago from L.L. Bean in the anxious summer before my marriage, and to say that I had to grow into them provokes a rueful laugh from me that only three of us can fully understand. Those three would be me, my husband, and my sister, all of whom had hard-earned doubts about my abilities to fill these shoes.
During that summer before the wedding, my young husband–to-be and I lived in run-down old house whose only redeeming quality was that no one had ever gardened the land surrounding it. The rest of the house should have been condemned and bulldozed, but my husband had bought it before we met as some kind of aspirational wedge against becoming like his father, a man who could not fix a thing and had no interest in learning to do so.
But it was lovely land: Soft and pliable, a tiny stream nudged up against it, giving it a small water source. There was no slate, few rocks, and little clay. I quickly came to learn the word friable, defined by Webster’s as “the ability of a solid substance to be reduced to smaller pieces with little effort.”
Being a New Yorker, I knew that every journey begins with a retail experience in footwear, and so I purchased us both Hunter garden boots, the kind that are now terribly fashionable everywhere but in the garden, and in them we set out to till, turn, transplant, move, prune, haul, rake, stake and cultivate our way to a mutual experience. I think the only time I took off those boots that summer was for the wedding day and honeymoon, returning to them as a new bride whose ambitions were nothing short of becoming somewhat friable herself.
I had no skills for being a wife, having learned nothing from my parents’ marriage that I cared to bring into my own. I had fewer skills as a gardener. My sister is a gardener of no small renown. And so I was fixed in a place of terror. The boots helped. The man who had never fixed anything and the woman with no skills daily slipped into those boots and went out into the garden together, where we learned from scratch how to work side by side. Months later, on the morning of our first Christmas together, we pulled from the snow the carrots we’d serve for dinner that night.
Last Saturday, two houses later, my husband and I sat down next to one another and pulled on those very same boots for the first time this season. On we go, I thought. On we go.
As a memoir writing coach, writing teacher, and developmental editor I spend a lot of my time trying to get my students and clients to try to stop focusing on the large stuff and instead to look at the small. I think I’ll put my money where my mouth is here, and begin a series called Objects of My Affection, and go grab things from my life and tell you what they mean to me and why. Let’s explore the big in the small together, shall we?