Introducing F.I.B's second guest blogger, Joyce "Bad Girl Blog" Hanson! Again the theme is "Found in Brooklyn". Joyce Hanson has a way of bringing history into the present in her writings. She is currently writing a book called "Chasing Bad Girls" which in her words is "my pursuit of wicked women in history who inspire me and teach me life lessons."
Gleaning Pebbles in Kensington
My Scottish mum-in-law gave me a packet of paperwhite flower bulbs on a recent visit to Brooklyn.
“You’re welcome, hen. The best way to plant these bulbs is in a bowlful of pebbles.” Well, here’s the trouble. As I recently mentioned in a post on my own Bad Girl Blog, I was recently laid off, and so economies must be made. I can’t go throwing my money around at the garden shops, buying sacks of fancy pebbles and such.
But on the same day that Irene gave me the paperwhites, and as I was worrying the issue of pebbles, we took a walk around my neighborhood of Kensington. And there, right on Church Avenue near East 4th Street, what did I spy but a good shovelful of gravel spilled along a stretch of pavement near the parking meters.
“Irene,” I said, “I think this gravel will do well enough as paperwhite pebbles.”
I went home for a dustpan and brush, then came back to the graveled spot on Church Avenue and started to sweep the pebbles into my basket, smiling cheerfully and ignoring the cars that came to park on the same spot and people’s comments of “What are you doing?” and “Where did that gravel come from? Is it yours? Is it going to ruin my tires?”
As I swept and brushed, I was put in mind of Francois Millet’s 1857 painting, “The Gleaners.”Oddly enough, I came across another Scottish connection while researching the painting, and the information I found resonated on a personal level. According to a “Timeline of Waste” created by the Arts & Humanities Research Council’s Centre for Environmental History at the University of St. Andrews, a six-century-old university in Scotland:
“In this depiction of the rural life of 19th-century France, we see three female figures gathering the leftovers after the harvest. This practice—known as gleaning—was traditionally part of the natural cycle of the agricultural calendar undertaken by the poor, and was regarded as a right to unwanted leftovers. Although the practice of agricultural gleaning has gradually died away due to a number of historical factors (including industrialisation and the organisation of social welfare for the poor), there are nonetheless still people in the present day that we might understand to be gleaners.”
Now that I’m collecting unemployment, you might say that I’m receiving a form of social welfare for the poor—and that I am one of the people in the present day who is indeed a gleaner.
Irene has gone back home to Scotland, but her memory lives on in the bowlful of paperwhites I’ve planted. They’re sitting in the fridge now, waiting for me to add water and force the bulbs in January. I can’t wait till the flowers bloom. They have the most gorgeous smell, and bring a hint of spring when you’re cooped up in a Kensington apartment in the middle of winter. Hooray for the rich abundance to be found in Brooklyn, where carelessly spilled roadside gravel transforms into garden pebbles.
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