I'll be 59-years-old this coming August. I am a creature of the late 20th century for the most part, and I'm now spending the remainder of my life trying to make heads or tails out of the beginning years of the 21st century without being overwhelmed or thrown for a loop. But once upon a time, long ago in Peoria I had a connection with the 19th Century that might have been worthy of an award winning Ray Bradbury short story and her name was Mrs. Christenson. You know, if Stephen King had had her for a neighbor while he was growing up, he might have found a way to build an entire novel around her—not everything Mr. King writes is necessarily horror related you know.
Mrs. Christenson and her husband (I never knew their first names and I never asked) would have been in their late seventies at the very least back then, and probably well into their eighties, and may very well have had their very first date in the year 1900. The Christensons lived right across the alley from us and just around the corner from our garage. Their entire back yard was a jungle of assorted greenery and for me it was a wonderland. Sometimes I was invited back there to explore and that was always a treat for me back in those days.
That woman grew everything back there except regular lawn grass—there wasn't a blade of it to be seen anywhere in her back yard. I'm not sure what the zoning laws were like for our community, but Mrs. Christenson wouldn't have cared anyway and all the neighbors just left her alone.
Mrs. Christenson grew whatever she darned well pleased. She grew every kind of berry you could imagine, all kinds of vegetables, stakes with vines clinging to them twice as tall as I was could be seen as far as the eye cold see. It smelled great back there, like springtime incarnate. Whenever the hideous spring weather here in Minnesota begins to get me down, all I have to do is close my eyes and remember what Mrs. Christenson's garden smelled like in high summer and suddenly things don't seem so bad.
Mrs. Christenson could be a tad cranky at times, but never viciously so, and I think I was one of the few kids in the neighborhood that she genuinely liked or trusted. Sometimes my dog Cleo would wander back there with me to investigate, but when it came to Mrs. Christenson, Cleo kept kind of a poker face in that way some dogs have. Her eyes would shift back and forth from me to the old lady in the grey floppy sun hat as if Cleo were trying to make up her mind one way or the other.
Stephen King has written novels and stories about places where the barriers between other worlds and other dimensions are thin, and from time to time things contained in those other places and times are allowed to poke through. I think Mrs. Christenson's house may have been one of those special places. That was the impression I got on the occasions when Mrs. Christenson would invite me in for a fresh squeezed lemonade on a hot muggy, summer's day. It was like walking through a portal into the 19th century.
Mr. Christenson would sit there, not saying much in his rocking chair that looked very much like it could have been hand crafted by Charles Ingalls himself. Mrs. Christenson would give me some very old and practical advice on how to start a garden and grow things—advice that I find useful even now all these long years later. I think some of the green in Mrs. Christenson's thumb may have actually rubbed off on me. I've been told so more than once that I have a way with growing things and I think I do, lessons learned from Mrs. Christenson.
A few years after I moved away to Minnesota, I can remember feeling an atavistic thrill of fear when I saw a particular episode of Rod Serling's “Night Gallery.” It was an episode called “Green Fingers,” staring Elsa Lanchester and based on a story written by R.C. Cook.
The story centered around a greedy real estate developer who wanted to buy the property of an elderly lady who's sole joy in the golden years of her life was to work in her garden and grow things. There was no way she was going to sell out to the real estate developer, who was running out of patience with her.
He hired a thug to help convince the old lady to move, but the thug went way too far and wound up hacking off part of her hand and some of her fingers, leaving her alone to go into circulatory shock and die from loss of blood. Somebody called the cops, and when they got to the old lady's house, with the last of her strength, she seemed to be planting something in her garden. By the time the cops got her to the hospital, she was dead.
The real estate developer went to the old lady's house to gloat over his newly acquired property, and noticed to his horror that something had pushed it's way out of the earth in the old lady's garden. He goes into her living room, only to find Elsa Lanchester in her rocker, grinning this great big “Bride of Frankenstein” grin, covered with vines and other green foilage and saying; “Everything I plant grows...including me!”
The real estate developer instantly becomes a white haired babbling lunatic at the sight of her in her rocker.
You know...if anybody in the world could have actually done something like that, it would have been Mrs. Christenson. Seriously. Watching that show took me right back to her garden in Peoria.
That was long, long ago and my special connection to Mrs. Christenson's garden and her other-worldly 19th century house was severed for good when we moved to Minnesota.
But when the interminable winters here finally begin to wind down for the year and things begin to turn green again and the smell of springtime makes it's way back into the air, I can't help but to think of Mrs. Christenson and of times long past, in the springtime and the early summer...in Peoria...
Well for all of you online readers, the book is now available as an “e-book” and can be instantly downloaded by clicking here: The New Improved Testament e-book. I suggest the printed version, but either way, this is one hilarious read you should definitely check out!