Mama’s Garden

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

cherry-tomatoes-plant

Cherry Tomatoes Plant (available from: Public-Domain-Image.com)

 

“If you plant it in the earth, give it just enough sunlight, just enough water, and just enough nurturing, it will yield something.” – Syble Allen Williams (1921 -2013)

Now, when I think of teaching, I think about my Mama’s gardens and the first time I read the quote by author Gail Godwin who said that, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre.”  A while back, I did not exactly understand the connection between teaching and theatre or any connection to my Mama’s conceptualization of gardening.  After all, was it not possible to be a gardener or agriculturalist without being an artist?  Even further, when I thought of theatre or any performance art, I thought and continue to think of people trained to act, sing, dance (or all of the above), and who are on stage for the sole purpose of entertaining and enlightening a receptive audience.  The idea that a teacher and students were engaged in any kind of performance art escaped me until I stood in front of a classroom and gave a lecture without reading from any notes.  My Mama, Syble Allen Williams, understood the performance element in teaching the first time she set foot in a classroom to teach.  Only after she died, however, did I begin to understand some other things about the “pure theatre” or the creativity of teaching that was not readily apparent to me when she was alive.

I remember how she would begin to count to ten in order to get her kindergarteners to take their seats.  “One…Two…Three…” she would say slowly and deliberately.  The objective was to have all of her students seated BEFORE she reached the number ten.  They would scramble to their chairs, each one determined not to be the last child to make it to his or her seat.  Then there were Mama’s famous gold stars that she posted next to the names of those kids who ate all of their lunch—they were the fabulous members of the “Clean Plate Club.” Many children decided to sample a vegetable that they really did not want to eat in order to earn that gold star.  Yet, she was at her most creative with her classroom gardens and her trips to the farm.

After Mama’s funeral service, our cousin James—who served as one of her pallbearers—told me that before her funeral began, four of her pallbearers were discussing their trips to farms and the gardens they helped to plant and tend when they were mere kindergarteners in her class.  Four of Mama’s pallbearers were her former students.  I remember when she made the switch from teaching third grade to kindergarten.  I also recall her comments about children who grew up in the city.  While she loved city life, she noted that children in cities rarely got much, if any, exposure to farm life.

Mama was born on a working farm in a tiny Georgia hamlet about forty minutes away by car from Atlanta.  She lived there until she was about nine years old.  Around her ninth birthday, her family migrated to Atlanta, as did so many Black rural families during and after the Great Depression.  The beauty is that Mama’s appreciation for her agricultural roots ultimately became a wonderful lesson for her students.

Back in the 1970s when she started teaching kindergarten, she told me one day that too many of her students really did not know anything about where their food came from or the teamwork required to run a farm.  Eventually she located a nice man—whose name escapes me now—who had a small working farm in McDonough, Georgia complete with crops, chickens, pigs, and cows.  I only remember him as a middle aged, brown-skinned man who seemed tickled to death that the work he did as a farmer had some intrinsic value to Mama and her young students.

Every year she taught kindergarten she included a trip to that farm in McDonough, Georgia so that “her children” could witness the interaction of farmer and crop and cows and chickens.  The cows’ manure fertilized the soil that yielded the crops.  It was all organic and interactive.  Every year, she would have her five-year-olds plant a garden in their classroom.  She would gleefully remark how they would become mesmerized when they would see something that they had planted in the soil begin to grow.  “Their eyes just light up at the first sight of the smallest bud,” she would say.  For me, the strongest memory was her garden at our house and her household plants.

Each year she grew tomatoes, cabbage, collards, and squash on a strip of land in our backyard.  I also recall one year she grew the hottest jalapeño peppers ever grown in the history of humankind—I remember it well; I ate one of those peppers and needed a couple of pitchers of ice water to cool the heat.  Then there was her endless sea of green plants that lined our porch and windowsills.  She often noted that the tomatoes might not grow as big as you wished, but if you nurtured those seeds, you would still get tomatoes.  This was her lesson to her kindergarteners and to me: you always get something back if you plant something and nurture it.

Mama’s gardens and farming adventures were lessons in sheer creativity.  In these activities were a science lesson, another lesson that taught respect for animals’ contributions to our welfare and an appreciation for our natural environment, a lesson in how any one of us who had patience could nurture a plant from a seed or seedling to full bloom.  Even further, when I think of how many people never want to revisit their childhoods, I am comforted.  Mama found beauty, resilience, and lifelong lessons in her own childhood, a childhood that she spent helping her parents and grandparents tend to plants and animals on the old family farm.  Her students got a chance to share in a part of her upbringing.

On a nearly cloudless, sunny day in February of 2013, Mama had six pallbearers: one was a dear cousin, another was a family friend, and four were her former kindergarteners.  These six dignified, hardworking, respectable, responsible, and well-educated Black men—all now over the age of forty—donned white gloves, and hoisted Mama’s coffin and took her to her final place of rest in the soil—soil she respected.   Proudly, I watched them, as I am sure she did.  And then I thought, “If you plant it in the earth, give it just enough sunlight, just enough water, and just enough nurturing, it will yield something.”

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

12 Lessons…

…I Learned from My Parents and a Few Great Teachers (Some old advice worth repeating)

by Leslye “Joy” Allen                                                                                                            Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

  1. BE PREPARED TO BURN THE MIDNIGHT OIL.  If you rush and get something done in ten minutes, there are probably ten errors in it.  Take your time and do it right the first time.
  2. DO NOT BE AN ADULT WHO IS ALSO A SPOILED BRAT.  Temper tantrums and crazy demands are bad enough in children, but completely intolerable in adults.  In fact, tantrums and crazy demands will not likely be tolerated by anyone other than an idiot who is a glutton for punishment.  No one owes you anything.  Get over the idea that because you are sad, financially broke, angry, or frustrated that the world must accommodate your bad mood or your rudeness.  Go somewhere alone and be quiet and think about how you got to this point.
  3. DO NOT EXPECT YOUR FAMILY (or SPOUSE) TO CHANGE.  Enough said.
  4. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE BAD STUFF.  Remember that there are some memories of bad or traumatic events that will bother you from time to time.  Call a good friend who will let you vent, or seek counseling.  If necessary, shed a few tears.  Yet, do not cry over five minutes.  Get back to your work.  Do not get into the habit of believing that because you have big problems that you bare no responsibility for your life.
  5. BE DEPENDABLE.  No one needs a friend that barely returns a phone call and no employer needs an employee that is chronically late or who does lousy work.
  6. BE INDEPENDENT and take responsibility for your personal and financial life—You are not an adult until you do.  Avoid people that do not encourage your independence. People who support your dreams are not supposed to continuously pay your way, but they should be encouraging you to do so.
  7. CHOOSE  YOUR ASSOCIATES AND FRIENDS AND MATES, CAREFULLY.  Suppose your associates or friends or mates can be defined as any of the following: unreliable, lazy, bigoted, racist, narrow-minded, sexist, uncouth, ill-mannered, elitist, promiscuous, untrustworthy, and/or just plain dumb (you can add your own negatives, if you like).  All you need to ask yourself is whether you would want your son or daughter to acquire about half of these characteristics.  If your answer is no, then you have no business hanging out with, dating, marrying or mating with any of these folks.
  8. DEAL WITH WHAT IS REAL.  Avoiding reality will never change reality.  Daydreaming and talking about what you want to do has its limitations.  Dream big, but stop daydreaming and get to work.
  9. FINISH WHAT YOU START.  So what if what you are working on is going to take five years or more to complete?  Work toward that goal with concrete and practical steps everyday, and avoid taking detours.  It is not what you say you want to do, but what you actually do that matters.
  10. PARTICIPATE IN THE ARTS (music, theatre, paintings, sculpture, dance, writing) in some capacity.  The arts help you remain creative whether you have any artistic talent or not.  Creativity, put to good use, will help you solve problems.  Occasionally, it will help you forget about your problems when necessary.
  11. This is an old adage, but NEVER STOP LEARNING.  Make education a lifelong journey.  Always be ready to discover something new.
  12. MAKE SMILING A HABIT.  Frowning always turns people off.  Smiling helps your appearance and your attitude.

Peace.

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.