I stood, spade in hand, preparing to dig in the moist soil. My plan was to widen the edge of the garden to make space for still more perennials and annuals. I stood on the shovel, putting my weight behind the long blade, and pushed into the soil. Pulling back the sod, I noticed an object exposed in the dirt. Picking it up, I studied the form enclosed in a clay-like cocoon.

Gardening had been a favorite pastime of my parents, long ago, when we all lived together as a family in our Scarborough, Ontario home. This is where Mom and Dad found a common ground in an otherwise tumultuous daily life. In June, we took the traditional trip to the nursery where Mom and Dad would purchase the seasons supply of annuals and perennials, peat moss and loam, while my two brothers, sister and I played in the small amusement area.

Gardening was a form of communion for my parents, a sacred ceremony of placing new plants in the prepared soil where all could witness the cycle of growth and beauty that only nature can produce. Those were moments when the unpleasant turmoil of our home-life was out of mind and I could feel some safety, stability and a sense of richness.

Money seemed to always be a source of unspoken stress in our home. Although it was rarely discussed openly, it was clear to me that we were not affluent. We had a home and nice clothes and even took a summer holiday, but behind all this was a feeling of lack and especially that my father wanted more.

Those two aspects of my home life followed me as I grew up, both the financial strain and the love of gardening. That constant source of stress I'd experienced over money in our family, became a kind of sad legacy for me when I moved out. I could never seem to make ends meet no matter how hard I tried. I watched as my friends and acquaintances flourished in their homes while I lived on the poverty line.

It was springtime, thirty years later. I stood on the front lawn of my mother's home. She and Dad had long since divorced and he, married for the third time, now lived several blocks away. Divorced myself, I'd returned home for a time, to heal and recover from a long and difficult period of my life.

Recognizing the presence of some treasure, I began to pick and prod at the hard clay form in my hand, very soon exposing the outline of what looked like a penknife. I took the knife inside where I soaked it in salt and water for several days, until the white mother of pearl hull was fully exposed.

I was certain the insides were rusted shut, but took it upon myself to try to open it. Three days later, after randomly filing and digging between the blade and the edge, I was able to pull out the blades. To my amazement they were fully intact, but coated in a sticky substance. Taking a steel wool pad, I scrubbed away the white tacky film that covered the blades from thirty years underground. Very soon, the stainless steel surface of the blades was shimmering and clean.

When I asked my mother about the knife, she recalled it had belonged to my father. I began to remember years before, how my father would pack this very knife when he'd gone on trips with the Fin and Feather Hunting and Fishing Club. Later my brothers used it for games, to throw at wooden beams, and to play cowboys and Indians. I never noticed its absence when it had just gone missing.

I felt compelled to return the knife to my father and got in my car for the five-minute drive. Dad, now retired, answered the door in his typically casual manner. I handed him the knife ceremoniously, half expecting some sort of crescendo after all my efforts. His reply was anticlimactic. "That knife belonged to my Father," he said with what seemed little emotion. He told me a little about the history of the knife and we parted. I felt disappointed. Certainly after all my efforts, there must be more.

A few days later I called him for something. I began questioning him about his father, prodding him like I'd prodded the old knife. I learned a great deal about what had shaped my father's attitudes that afternoon and what had fed the feeling of poverty I carried for my forty years.

At the age of ten, Dad's life changed in an instant when his older sister happened by chance to sit next to my grandfather and his "date" in the local movie theatre of the small Ontario town they lived in. Granddad's affair ended my grandparent's marriage. Afterward, Dad's dream of becoming a pharmacist like his father faded away. Taking odd jobs, my grandmother struggled to make ends meet, but with no support from her now ex-husband, college for Dad was out of the question.

My grandfather wanted nothing to do with my dad or the family. I'd never met my grandfather and hadn't heard much about him until now; I'd only experienced the bitterness my father carried in his heart as a man. I'd never understood that he had once had a father too, who'd turned his back on his only son.

My dad continued to tell the story of how my grandmother had struggled to raise my dad and his three sisters with odd jobs. It was a great strain. Once she'd managed to save fifteen- hundred-dollars for a down payment on a house. Fifteen hundred dollars was an enormous amount in the 1940s. She naively handed it to a land developer who absconded with her savings, leaving my dad and his sisters to live in a tent that summer. I recalled stories Dad had told me as a child, one in particular where he'd stolen a can of beans out of dire necessity and starvation, only to find when he finally got it open that it was rotten.
Most of my life, I'd struggled with money, carrying a burden of poverty, unable to break the cycle even after many attempts. As I listened to the story of my dad's life, I began to understand so much about myself, my poverty, my inability to get ahead, and those deep beliefs buried in my subconscious.

The knife seemed to have surfaced to show me a healing was in process. I'd carried the cutting wounds of my father and his mother. His estrangement from his father had meant years of poverty and hurt, which in turn had been passed down to me.

Now it was time to let go of the wounds of my past and my father's father's past and to let love enter my heart. I said good-bye to my dad, now a little more compassionate and understanding of what had shaped his views and caused him to have such a tough exterior. Soon after, I saw my grandmother in a dream. She'd passed on some years before. 'Grammy' had some of that bitterness in her till the end. In the dream we ran to each other and hugged warmly as my dad looked on. The familiar bitterness was gone and now only compassion and understanding remained.

The garden is a treasure that yields its beauty unselfishly. Our family was rich in a way I hadn't realized. The knife represented the past, buried anger and resentment in my family home. Through learning to forgive my father for his seeming hardness of heart, I could step forward into a new life of abundance and greater love.
~Darlene Montgomery

Author's Bio: 

Darlene Montgomery is an internationally respected authority on dreams, spiritual perspectives and ideas. She is an author, speaker and clergywoman who speaks to groups and organizations on uplifting subjects. Her first book, Dream Yourself Awake, published in 1999, chronicles the journey she took to discover her own divine mission. Her stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Parent's Soul, Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul, WTN website, Eckankar Writers Newsletter.