Having a loved one diagnosed with stage three esophageal cancer means a lot of things, not least of which is learning to become a caretaker for someone who is going to be very sick. And yet, at the beginning of A Victory Garden for Trying Times: A Memoir, author and journalist Debi Goodwin decides to take on another monumental task. At the same time that she is caring for her husband, Peter, Goodwin will also create a victory garden.
Appropriately enough, this memoir begins in November, with Goodwin planting garlic cloves to harvest next fall. She and her husband love eating fresh bruschetta, with tomatoes, garlic, and basil from their own garden. She worries about whether or not Peter will be around to eat this garlic. She also hopes that he will. After all, planting a garden is an act of hope. We put seeds and seedlings into the ground in the hope that they will grow and that we will be around to partake of the bounty. A victory garden is also an act of defiance, too. Goodwin points out that victory gardens were a way for people who weren’t soldiers to fight the enemy—at least according to the propaganda that was produced during the two world war wars.
Goodwin’s memoir takes us through one year in her life. We see Peter through several surgeries, his highs and a lot of lows. We also see Goodwin come to terms with her grief and depression as her husband’s health declines. Meanwhile, Goodwin’s victory garden has highs and lows. Some plants do well; others inexplicably wither. It’s a good metaphor for cancer in that, cancer has rules that we don’t always understand. We can do everything right (or mostly right) and still not be able to get rid of every invasive beetle or cancerous cell.
A Victory Garden for Trying Times is also a memoir of Goodwin’s love for her husband and partner, and her love for gardening. We get to know Goodwin so well that my heart ached for her. Because of some events in my own life (a cancer diagnosis, a sudden loss of a loved one), this book turned out to be a perfect read for me. The garden at the heart of this book, both as actual garden and as metaphor, reminded me that life goes on, as long as we do the little, constant, necessary tasks of taking care of ourselves. We might not feel like it now, in the middle of our grief, but someday there will be roses and fresh garlic again.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.