The soothing clip-clop of her horse’s hooves did nothing to calm Emma’s anxiety over her morning delivery. She’d gotten up early to get all of her chores done so she could get a fresh batch of flowers cut and wouldn’t feel rushed. But she’d forgotten to remind her brother, Matthew, that she needed to take the cart into town for an early delivery and he’d let Lizzy out to pasture which delayed her in leaving on time.
Clicking her tongue and gently slapping the reins she hoped to encourage Lizzy to go a bit faster. Usually, she enjoyed the peaceful ride into Willow Springs, but this morning she couldn’t shake the feeling of dread of being late delivering flowers to her least favorite customer.
Mrs. Sorensen owned the Bed and Breakfast in town and ordered fresh flowers to be delivered every Saturday morning. She insisted the Inn have flowers in every room and she even had them shipped in during the winter when Emma couldn’t keep her supplied. Emma’s flowers had become the talk of the town, and most weeks she couldn’t fill every order that got called into her father’s furniture shop. However, Mrs. Sorensen paid extra to be certain her order was always filled and delivered promptly at ten o’clock.
Pulling into the parking lot she quickly tethered Lizzy to the post and made her way to the back kitchen entrance. Breathing in a deep breath, she braced herself for Mrs. Sorensen’s sour mood and peeked in the screen door before she pushed it open.
Thank goodness she wasn’t in the kitchen, and she prayed she wouldn’t notice she was late. Saying good morning to Ester and Beth as she walked through the door she set the buckets of flowers on the floor near the sink.
Glancing at the clock on the wall, Ester shook her head and tucked a few stray hairs back under her kapp as she said.
“She’s not going to be happy you’re late. But again she wouldn’t be happy if you were on time either.”
Looking up from the bread she was kneading Beth snickered and shook her head to agree with Ester.
Wiping the flour off her cheek on her shoulder Beth said.
“That woman has to be the orneriest woman I’ve ever met. It’s a good thing she doesn’t come into the kitchen much, or I think I’d quit. She walks around here like she’s queen and barks orders like we are no better than the dirt on her shoes.”
Elbowing Emma, Ester leaned in and whispered.
“I heard she was once an art teacher at the high school and none of her students liked her. Some English girls were talking about her at the Sandwich Shop a few weeks ago. They said they dreaded having her as a teacher. One of the girls said they used to play tricks on her and one year some boys even put a dead skunk in her car.”
Laughing a little louder Ester looked at Emma and asked.
“What’ja think? Should we find something dead and stinky to throw in her car? It might not put a smile on her face, but it sure would be funny.”
“Ester! How could you even think such a thing? You’d better find a way to ask God to forgive you for such awful thoughts. I know she tends to be grumpy most of the time, but maybe she has something to be grumpy about. Did you ever think of that? Maybe she just needs someone to be nice to her.”
Beth went to the sink to wash her hands as she said.
“I doubt that I’ve tried to be friendly to her, but she never lets anyone in that little bubble she keeps herself in. She comes downstairs at eight o’clock every morning barks out her orders for the day and then goes back and locks herself in her office for the rest of the day. The only time you ever see her is when she comes out to check on the guests or when a delivery is made. Once in a while, you’ll see her sitting in the garden all by herself.”
“Well, all I know is I need to find her and let her know I’ve left her flower order in the kitchen.”
Bracing to face the inevitable she turned and headed down the hall that led to the old woman’s office. When she reached the room, the door was open, and she was nowhere to be seen. Standing in the doorway, she marveled at the artwork on the walls. Without giving it much thought, she was drawn to the paintings and went inside to get a closer look. There were three colorful paintings in the room. One was a row of sunflowers up against a white picket fence, one was a patch of bright red zinnias, and the last was a picture of a young girl sitting on a bench under a maple tree. All of them were signed by the same artist, L. Sorensen. She wondered if the artist might be Mrs. Sorensen.
Turning to walk out of the office she looked in the room across the hall only to notice a pair of french doors leading out into the garden. She had never been invited to see the gardens since it was only accessible through the house. She looked around and gave herself permission to take a quick peek into the garden. She quietly opened the door hoping no one would notice her walk out onto the brick covered patio. Once outside she could see the morning sun bouncing off the water feature in the center of the garden as monarch butterflies were enjoying the milkweed planted directly behind the fountain.
The garden had a peacefulness to it, and she understood why it was kept private only letting the Inn’s guests enjoy it. Walking along the brick paved walkway, she smiled at the little treasures that were hidden along the way. A ceramic frog hidden beneath the branches of a rhododendron bush, a birdhouse strategically placed in the nook of a tulip tree, stepping stones set around a garden of zinnias and whimsical garden art tucked in around the plants to surprise you at every turn. Nothing tacky in the least but all put in a soothing and inviting manner to encourage you to explore the gardens surrounded by a white picket fence. As she turned the last corner to find her way back to the patio, she heard the sniffles of someone crying. She stopped to make sure she wasn’t imagining it and then followed the sounds to a bench under a tree on the far side of the garden.
Sitting on the bench was Mrs. Sorensen. Unsure if she should move forward she stood completely still for what seemed like minutes. Willing herself to move and remembering the conversation she had just had with Ester and Beth; she got up the nerve to approach her.The woman had her head hung low looking at a photo album on her lap with one hand as she wiped her eyes with the other. Startled, she looked up at Emma and just stared. She lifted her hand to shield her eyes from the sun as she tried to figure out who was standing in front of her. A smile formed on her face as she asked.
“Emma, why are you in those funny clothes?”
Confused by her comment, it took Emma a few seconds to answer.
“Mrs. Sorensen, it’s Emma Byler, you’ve seen me in these clothes for years. What do you mean funny clothes?”
Moving her head to the right so the sun would be out of her eyes she looked again at the young woman standing in front of her.
“Oh, Emma, I’m sorry I thought you were someone else for a minute.”
“Do you mind if I sit down?”
“No of course not, please do.”
The harsh manner she was usually greeted with had changed into a soft, gentle and almost inviting tone.
“Are you ok? I heard you crying.”
“Don’t mind me I’m just a miserable old woman who gets lost in my own self-pity some days.”
Not sure what to say Emma turned the conversation to the book on her lap.
“What do you have there? Are those pictures of your family?”
She handed the book over to Emma and folded her hands on her lap. Emma took the book and opened it to the first page. Printed in the center of the page were the words, EMMA’S GARDEN.
Not sure what to think she continued to turn the pages. Each page was filled with pictures of beautiful flowers all in bloom and all taken at different times throughout the year. A couple of the pictures reminded her of the paintings she had seen earlier. At that moment she realized the photos were all taken in the garden she was sitting in. The last page was a picture just like the painting of the young woman on the bench she had seen a few minutes ago.
As she closed the book, she tried to put the pieces together and assumed the woman in the photo must be Emma.
“Is this Emma’s Garden?”
“Emma Leigh was my daughter, and she loved gardening as much as you do. This garden is all I have left of her and even though there are plenty of flowers to be cut I just can’t bring myself to take them inside. When she was sick, we’d come out and sit on this bench every day to enjoy them. Being out here makes me feel closer to her, and you and your flowers remind me of her. When you came up to me earlier, you looked so much like her I thought you were my Emma.”
“I don’t even know what to say, but I can imagine how being out in her garden comforts you.”
Rubbing her hand on the seat beside her she said.
“I call this my mourning bench. I spent the last few weeks of Emma’s life on this bench with her and years before that I’d spent months with my husband here before he died. I find comfort in this garden, but it also holds a lot of memories that make me sad.”
Emma’s heart was heavy that she hadn’t tried harder to reach out to her before this.
“I don’t know how you feel, but maybe I can help. Do you think you’d let me turn this garden into a place of joy again instead of a spot you grieve? We could create a new garden around this bench that bring this area back to life. Maybe we could plant daffodils and tulips that bloom in the spring, lilies, and dahlias that bloom in the summer, and then some chrysanthemums to bloom in the fall. That way you’ll have fresh flowers blooming around your bench all year long, except of course when the garden is covered with snow, and the Cardinals will give you plenty of winter color.”
Mrs. Sorensen reached out and took Emma’s hand, squeezed it, and smiled. It took her a few minutes before she said anything as she looked out over the garden in front of her.
“I’ve never let the gardener plant anything new because I wanted it to stay just the same as Emma left it. But maybe it’s time I let go of my sorrow and look for something that makes me smile again, and right now that something is you. Thank you for showing me we can add life back into Emma’s Garden again.”