Prairie Home

Prose Poem – Prairie Oasis

When my Dad, Sadato Nakamura built our house in 1950, we were at the southeast end of the Regina city limits. The surrounding prairie field had buttercups, crocus, and tiger lilies. We gathered wildflowers for my mother, although the crocus soon lost its colour and shape after picking. My brother and his friends would gather in the open field across from our house to play football in the summer or slide on inner tubes towed by a vehicle in winter.

	We were a block away from Wascana Creek where there were places to bike, picnic, build hideaway shelters and explore with my siblings. We gathered pussy willows, bulrushes and tadpoles for science projects. We were free to explore the trails along the creek and would return from our explorations hungry and tired and in time for supper.

	The perimeter of the City grew out from our prairie home and gradually filled in with new housing. Wascana Creek underwent a major transformation in the 1960s with a community plan for a newly named Wascana “Lake”. It included a new university, landscaping, parking and picnic areas, but it never provided the sense of freedom and unkempt wildness of its earlier years.

	My oldest brother had his own three-speed CCM that he rode to school. Four of us, ranging in age from 12 years down to me at seven, shared a blue single speed Eatonia. I stood on the pedals riding the bike because I was too short to reach the pedals when seated. We practiced our bike riding on the gravelled alley behind our house. My brother held onto the seat while I madly pedalled. When he could no longer keep up, he let go. I panicked after realizing he was no longer supporting me, lost my balance and ended up with scraped knees and elbows. But of course with practice and fewer scrapes, I was able to manage on my own. 

	Together my parents created a garden oasis on their property. They were the first in the neighbourhood to grow “exotic” produce like eggplant, daikon, shiso, strawberry and raspberry bushes. The garden sustained the family year round with various preserves, pickles and frozen produce. After my father went off to work and the older kids to school, Aiko, my mother would tend to the garden before the mosquitoes came out, and the prairie sun heated the day.

	I would play outside and dig in the garden and watch her pick and squish beetles off the potato leaves, hoe the soil around the onions and potatoes, thin the carrots and lettuce, pick peas, weed and finally water. Sometimes she would use grey water from the traditional Japanese bath from the night before to water the garden. My father would help with additional gardening chores in the evening or on the weekend.

	Purple bearded irises surrounded a fish pond built by my father. Domestic and wild tiger lilies, asters, zinnias and petunias lined the walkways. My father built a rock garden beside the front steps that held portulaca in a rainbow of brilliant yellow, orange, pink and peach-coloured flowers draped over the rockery. When I got to be school age my mother encouraged me to pick flowers for my teacher and she would arrange them into a colourful bouquet. I loved the fragrant sweet peas, bright magenta coloured asters, golden orange zinnias and blue bachelor buttons. 

	When my father died in 1997, there was less motivation and less help for gardening. My mother maintained the front flower garden, mainly perennials, but the backyard garden proved to be too much work for her. My youngest brother lived with her, but wasn't a gardener. She claimed she wouldn't be growing any veggies. 

	The first spring after my father died, I visited around the May long weekend, traditionally planting time for most gardeners. She had planted a few spinach seeds earlier in May as she usually did, in a short row near her gladiola bulbs, poppies, flowering tulips and daffodils. The spinach was showing their true leaves - shiny and dark green. Along a short 2-foot mesh fencing were signs of pea shoots unfurling near the ground. That to me was a sign that she had already started her veggie garden, albeit a small patch within the expansive backyard. I volunteered to dig up another section, which was tilled from the fall, to help her plant some carrots and multiplier onions that she had purchased prior to my arrival, probably in anticipation that I might be motivated to plant something. There were a few potatoes from her veggie bin that had sprouted shoots, so we planted them as well. As we were working, the neighbour peeked over the fence to admire our work and express support for my mother's gardening. He knew how much pleasure my mother got from gardening and he also probably remembered he was often the recipient of some of the produce. 

	My back ached for the rest of the weekend, but I was thankful we shared that time together doing what we both loved. The garden bounty was shared with neighbours and friends, who formed part of her supportive community. Her English skills were limited to short check-in conversations, but she enjoyed the social time with neighbours.

Prairie Oasis

Lillian Nakamura Maguire – Sept. 2023

plop of peas
shelling the silence
between us