March 10, 2014
Carol Wall, a wonderful childhood friend of mine, has written an extraordinary memoir called Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening. When it was released last week by Amy Einhorn Books, I read it right away and it has stayed in my mind and heart ever since.
A little background. We moved to Radford, Va. the summer I turned eight. Carol and her family were our backyard neighbors and she and I immediately hit it off. We both lived through our imaginations. Soon, the ditch in the alley between our houses became the Sacred River Nile, and the abandoned garage foundation next door became the Secret Rock Mine, where we’d pulverize rocks and keep the dust (precious metals) in jars. We happily spent most of our spare time together until my family moved blocks away. I was two years older than Carol and as children do, we drifted apart.
I moved and so did Carol, but we kept in touch through our mothers. Carol married at 20, taught school and wrote occasional articles for Southern Living. I was busy with journalism jobs and later marriage and family. I knew that Carol lived in Roanoke, Va. Her sister Judy found me on Facebook last year and told me that Carol’s first book was coming out, as was mine. Once again, I felt the kinship of storytelling that we had so enjoyed as children.
But our books are quite different. Saving Texas, a suspense novel, is fiction based loosely on my journalism background. Carol’s book is subtitled How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart. It’s a clear, insightful memoir that equally broke my heart and lifted my spirit.
Carol’s book explores her friendship with a Kenyan man who became her gardener and great friend. When the book opens, Carol has been successfully treated for breast cancer, but thinks of herself as “damaged goods.” She’s angry, fearful and hurting and her friendship with Mr. Owita over the next few years soothes her soul. She learns from his enjoyment of each day and “gracious acceptance of the handicaps and afflictions life had brought him.”
The book unfolds with the suspense of a good novel. Carol’s cancer recurs, her parents’ health worsens and she gradually learns more about the sadness in Mr. Owita’s life. I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s a beautifully crafted book that will keep you reading, guessing and hoping for the best.
Five years later, Carol is battling Stage Four breast cancer, and the complications from her latest round of chemotherapy will probably make it difficult for her to enjoy the accolades she deserves.
I suspect that “Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening” will be a huge hit, if the reviews so far are any indication. Buy it – for yourself and for Carol.