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Seeking Christmas solace in the garden


My son, Nathan, won't be home again this year for Christmas. He's been a missionary now for 21 months. We talk to him twice a year -- Mother's Day and Christmas -- but if I can't tell him that I miss him because it would only make him miserable. To cope with my angst, I head outside to garden. As a blast of 22 degrees hits my face, I think of Nathan traveling by bike with his companion. Both of them in their early 20s. They wear black slacks, white dress shirt and tie every day. Their name tags read: Missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. People ask, "Why can't you visit him during his two year mission" and marvel we only communicate once a week by e-mail. I explain, "It's like dropping your kid off at camp and then showing up unexpectedly. How hard it would be for him to see us leave and he still had 14 or 17 months without us." As I haul wheelbarrows of mulch across the frost-covered grass, I realize the way Nathan was in the garden is probably a good indicator of how he is now as a missionary. At age 4, he gathered neighborhood kids around a large hole he'd just dug in the middle of my manicured path. Handing each a fishing pole cut from a tree I'd just planted, he assured everyone that, " just because there isn't any water in the pond, doesn't mean there aren't any fish." In second grade, when his pumpkin plant sprawled 30 feet across the yard making it impossible to mow the grass, Nathan decided to protect his plant with bug spray. Only through prayer and the faith of a child did that scorched leafed plant manage to grow a perfect Halloween pumpkin. When Nathan gardened with his reluctant teenage brothers, he called himself "the task master" and prodded them on as they laid pallets of sod one spring. I imagine that same tenacity now as he faces one more hill on his bike and his knee aches with patellar tendonitis. I kneel to remove damp mulch and scrape super phosphate into the soil of the 24 Annabelle hydrangeas I planted several years ago in honor of each month Nathan's older brother was on his mission. For Nathan, I planted daffodils. Among the dried leaves their tender, green stems catch my eyes; peeking up just beyond the soil. A cold breeze engulfs my face at the same time sunlight seeps through the trees. I give emerging buds a dusting of white fertilizer and dream of daffodils in full bloom as our gangly son Nathan -- all 6 feet 2 inches of him-- saunters across the yard to greet us come spring. Cydne Watterson has been writing and gardening in Charlotte for 18 years with her husband and three sons.