My Mother was into punishment, that is,  for me,  being her only son.  

 She was a driven energetic and creative human being who could give a doll to her only daughter to ensure the girl’s  disappearance from my Mother’s tasks at hand…..which were many, including some not terribly necessary from an outsider’s point of view.  I don’t think she ever experienced a bored thirty seconds in her lifetime even on her death bed.

 I have learned through these,  my last years of   life, that I have been  much like her, except for the punishment bit.   I cannot remember ever  being  bored, and I, too, have handled certain tasks, the necessary and the unnecessary with full speed ahead as if I were a truck plowing snow.

Whether Mother  was  dusting   furniture, vacuuming  the carpet, wall papering, canning, conducting  business on the phone, or working part time at a shop, or performing a thousand other tasks per week,  my own endless energy and curiosity  got in her way.   I had questions to ask, noise to make with my trucks and attack air planes.   I had to know what things were and how they were used.  I was a boy.

My Mother had no time to put up with a likeness of herself and wanted me out of her way……punishment was the answer, whenever needed, for deed or no deed at all.

Hence, I discovered R. Atkinson Fox, the purpose of this post.   And, I really do believe that from this punishment, and the spring and summer  punishment being sent into our  Victory garden during World War II to pick the potato beetles and hoe, weed, harvest, seed, and other duties, led to  one of my primary loves of life…….landscape gardening.

The form of my primary  punishment from age 3 to age 11 or so, was to be sent to a wall, facing that  wall for about an hour, or until mother’s task was accomplished or her mood soothed.

Far above my three year old head I spied a print hanging on the wall of my punishments. Years would come,and  the years would go, both wall and print never changed.   It was a beautiful print, a landscape garden masterpiece  print.    Every year life would make me taller and bring me closer and closer with each punishment to this masterpiece  landscape garden print for a better view.  

When I was ten I discovered a name scrawled across the bottom right hand corner of this  beautiful landscape garden print…..”R. Atkinson Fox”.   ‘It must be the name of the man who painted such  beautiful scenery’, I thought.

When younger, I would cry or whimper at each punishment.    But one gets used to certain patterns in life.   The whimpers were more brief, until, worried that I might be sent somewhere else, I learned to pretend-whimper to make certain Mother  knew I was ‘suffering’.    Also, I learned quickly to complain about picking potato beatles…..dishonestly, I confess.   My favorite place for  punishment was  the Victory Garden.   There, I could explore, and since it was war time, I could dive bomb the beetles.  

I learned to love being around plants whether vegetables or landscape beauties.    I noted in Spring the highest in value among my mother’s tasks was her organizing  the  ten by ten foot  flower bed she’d assemble  each and every year.    This was a different Mother in action, as I viewed her work thirty feet away, safely playing ‘scenery’ in my neighbor’s sandbox.   She was at total peace with herself and others.  So was I watching her from afar, practicing landscape gardening  in my sandbox neighborhoods and making roads for  my Tootsie Toy cars.  

In this setting I was never in her way.   Peace, at last.

I have landscape gardened my entire life……the past twenty five or so years as owner of  Masterpiece Landscape, Ltd.   

We deliver a strange message in our landscaping…..that it,  landscape gardening is  an ART FORM… a matter of fact, the most revered of all art forms in our human history….PARADISE is not a painting, or theater, or a book…..PARADISE has been imagined as  A LANDSCAPE GARDEN.

I have known for decades I have been a very lucky individual, blessed in so many ways.    I was so lucky to have been so often  punished in my Mother’s manner.

One of the benefits of old age, again, if one is lucky, is to be able  to look back and follow the trail of ones memory.   How did I get to this point of my life?

During the winter, a long one in Minnesota as you  experienced people know, I bonded further with this  ’Grand She’ of our household.    At age eight on, I rose to unbelievable heights in Mother’s  esteem for me.    She had a profound weakness from her own course of duties, needed and unneeded, in life…..conquering jigsaw puzzles……the larger number of pieces, the greater the victory.   Neither my dad nor my sister were interested in sitting at the card table in the living room  figuring out where the 1,000 pieces or more  would fit to make a picture……and not just any old picture.

Television didn’t arrive at our house until my freshman year in high school

Every single jigsaw puzzle ever placed on that card table had to become a picture of a beautiful garden setting.   No other pictures could send Mother full speed ahead toward puzzle completion, nor completion of  any other Mother tasks, the needed or unneeded.    When the livingroom walls were painted, the jigsaw puzzle laden card table was placed in the middle of the room, no matter what the consequence.  

No threats were made, but all three of the rest of us  in the family knew her jigsaw puzzle  table was sacred.   God help one and all if it were ever disturbed…….and it never was.   Actually, she painted or wall papered all the faster, so she could take a rest at that very table to set more puzzle  pieces.   “Glenn, get over here and help your Mother!”   I gladly obliged and sensed  that  any mistake, real or unreal that  I had ever made in life was purged from her memory.

Mother was an accomplished jigsaw puzzle solver.   Naturally being a male, I wanted to beat her.   We never said anything about this sweat, but I had a quicker, keener, younger  eye.   She never had a chance, but never complained.  We seldom got tired ‘picture puzzling’.  We bonded  tightly.

By the time I was nine, because of the frequency of Mother  punishments, I became King of the Victory Garden.   Frankly, no one else  ever went there after spring cultivation and seeding.   I made daily visits, some forced, some voluntary.   It was a good place for us boys  to play guns where we could shoot Nazis hiding among the corn stalks.    No one knew more about this vast area of vegetable production than I, regardless of age.    I knew when the green tomatoes were big enough for frying and red enough for table and producing enough for canning.     I was  the only one who did the harvesting, when the cucumbers were big enough for pickling and the big cucumbers good  enough for canning chunk pickles. 

“The only thing I don’t like about gardens,” my Mother would complain, “it’s the bees”.   If stung, her  wound really did swell up… I was sent to the fields instead.   It was okay if I got stung, but I never did in that sanctuary.

We, rather I,  grew our spring potatoes on ‘hills’ for easier and more productive  harvesting.  My  Mother’s German father  recommended  this.    Hunting for the appropriate potatoes, those of the proper size was like hunting for treasure for a boy of 8, 9, or ten years.     I had orders to ‘pluck’  the larger ones so we could get the most our of the crop.  

There was an art to plucking potatoes.    One  was to stick one’s strong hand into the soil  and probe until the touch found a good tuber for plucking.   Since the edible part of the potato is this  swollen stem and not a root, the harvest could  be somewhat extended by allowing more ‘tubers’ to gain larger sizes  in a single  season.   To be German was to be frugal.

The problem here was one couldn’t see what one’s hand was touching  underneath the soil.    There is a downside to this frugal harvesting of  spring potatoes.   The hand may send a message regarding  the right size for picking, but the hand doesn’t anounce the health of the underground potato.

Have you ever smelled a rotten potato?   How about ones you’ve squished in your hand while probing underground for the harvest?

Well, even at ones young age, one does survive  squishing rotten potatoes, but one never forgets the smell.   Besides, I was never allowed to complain, and early on had learned the benefits from not doing so.   

Furthermore underlying it all,  I did know perfectly well, the Garden is where I wanted to be.

Was there ever a R. Atkinson Fox in your past or was I just lucky?