My Muse, She of the Golden Apple Tree
Her Secret Recipes and Hidden Charms
“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Monk, Activist and Writer.
The many hours I spent with my great-grandmother inspired the themes of my life work. I was four when she plucked an apple from the bountiful tree in her backyard. I don’t remember if the apple she handed me was golden or red, but it remains golden in my story. Regardless of the color, I’ve never forgotten the transcendent moment that meant more than my great-grandmother offering me the apple as an afternoon treat. Although she ceremoniously peeled the apple with the pearly-handled knife she kept in her apron pocket, then halved the apple so we could admire the star of five seeds, it was in the initial gesture when her hand placed the golden apple to my hand that the meaning of succession was conveyed.In the shimmering time out of time there was a transmission from the past to the future that has remained ongoing.
Thirty five years later a strike of lightning sent me back to the garden, an urban acre of green that included an orchard of thirty-two fruit trees. In the upper back yard of the Eden of my rebirth grew a vintage golden apple tree of great presence. She became my muse, confidante, and adviser; with her I entered true communion. She was the altar where I offered my devotion. In her bounty I felt the presence and guidance of my great-grandmother.
As the eldest of the three siblings, in my family I held a position of great privilege. Although I was poorly mothered, my early years were nurtured in a nest of Larson love. I was my paternal great-grandparents’ first great-grandchild, the first grandchild of their son killed while piloting his plane over Texas, leaving behind two pre-school children, the eldest my father and his sister my beloved Aunt Normae.
For five years I saw my great-grandmother almost daily. She called me her jewel. She was a gentle and dignified woman of pioneer stock. In her quiet gentility, she embodied great resolve and bore her profound grief with quiet forbearance.
I knew her as Grandma Lew. I often heard the family legend about her making her husband’s law school education possible. Because he worked nights as an accountant and attended classes by day, although she was a young mother with two sons, she read his law textbooks aloud to him while he rested his eyes and listened.
She died as I was starting kindergarten; we were both making passages into our ever-expanding worlds. But in the five years we shared she brushed and braided my hair; helped my father teach me to read; introduced me to the mysteries of her charm chest, the delights of her garden, the allure of golden apples, and the alchemy of stirring the pots on her kitchen stove.
I was fifteen and a fledgling feminist when I learned that that she’d worked as a suffragette on a state level and yet sacrificed her given name of Laverna to be known as Grandma Lew. Her identity had been completely subsumed by her husband, Lewis Larson. It was no longer a mystery to me why she lived with her velvet draperies drawn and grew her extravagant garden behind closed gates, her secret world. She was a hidden woman, her womanhood hidden. She remains a woman forgotten by history.There are times I feel the frustration she experienced by not expressing her voice. Perhaps my legacy from Laverna is the passion that informs my work of helping women find and express their creative voice.
In the quantum physics theory of conservation of information we come to understand that once an entity has existed the imprint it made is eternal, for it has unalterably changed everything it touched.
I was touched by Laverna’s presence and I am grateful that she is in my lineage of women of once upon a time. Most of my memories of her are from feelings that were imprinted on my young soul. Images of her and her home and garden flutter in and out of my awareness, my stories and dreams. I was too young to remember and understand her every word, but her influence on my life and writing has been profound. I believe the contents of her charm chest was the inspiration for my successful career as a jewelry designer. It is because of Laverna that I returned to the garden in a time of sadness. It is Laverna’s essence that my readers have met in my books; she was the inspiration for the wise crone voices of Rita Auldney, Lei Shamilly, La Shamana, Tilly Monroe, and a character in development, Ms. Rita Rose.
Our foremothers worked for our privilege of freedom of expression. I was influenced grandly by what Laverna said, but more so by what she didn’t say. She didn’t work as a suffragette for herself, this is obvious. She selflessly worked for me, for all of her progeny.