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Sun, March 24

Local Life Column: A good depression lifter

Glory Hallelujah. I've finally been inspired again! This time, it took a 1st-grader to get me back on track.

I've been stressed for quite some time over my poor sick puppy, "Gracie," not to mention all of the economic woes. My vet is trying very hard to figure out what's wrong with Gracie. To get my mind off all of this stress, my friend, "Lovey," invited me to take part in a school gardening program at the Kingman Academy of Learning Elementary School on St. Patrick's Day.

Lovey has been my second mother, friend, teacher, associate volunteer and community organizer ... simply ... just a lovely person. If she thinks an educational event like this one would bring me out of my depression, well, I just had to trust her.

"What's wrong with me," I thought as I pulled into the school parking lot. How dare I leave poor Gracie alone to go help volunteers with a gardening class! What if she gets worse while I'm gone? Or worse, what if I get pinched by a bunch of 1st-graders because I just realized I'm not wearing anything green on this day?

Panic set in. I know I didn't learn anything about gardening when I was in 1st grade. But I sure remember the pinches!

With Gracie on my mind, I entered the gym and stood away from the gardening class already in progress. It was a frenzy of excitement. Approximately 100 1st-graders, with the help of several volunteers, were stringing beads together to make a bracelet that will remind them in the future of "what makes a plant grow." Then they planted seeds in egg cartons, jesting with their hands, their eyes and ... 1st-grader vocal chords. I stood there wondering if these little people had dreams for themselves and their future.

They seemed so much more mature than I was when I was in 1st grade ... or even now. Not one of them attempted to pinch me for not wearing green. Had any of these youngsters given thought to becoming a master gardener when they grow up?

I asked Mrs. Karen Medlin (one of four teachers with participating classes) if I could interview one of her students. I mean, what could I, or anyone, possibly learn from a 1st-grader, right? Hawking over her nest of students, she agreed to let me talk to Kayla Foster, age 7, 1st-grader, a.k.a. gardening "mentor."

Student: Hi, Miss Kayla! I'm pretty new to gardening even though I'm an adult. I haven't taken very many gardening classes and I thought I would come here today to see what everyone else is learning. I noticed that you seem excited about gardening. How long have you been taking gardening classes?

Mentor: This is my first time in class, but I've been gardening with my grandma for a very long time ... ever since my brother was born ... approximately four years now... (Ah. Great way to avoid sibling rivalry! Peace for parents, education for the child and companionship with Grandma ... what an important multi-functional experience - no matter at what age we begin!)

Mentor: (continuing) ... Oh! And I just helped my grandma plant squash about a couple of weeks ago.

Student: Wow! That's great! (Many thoughts are going through my head now, specifically, I'm embarrassed to know that a 7-year-old has planted something and I am still procrastinating. My mind wandered back to Gracie. Was she doing OK at home without me?)

Student: What's the best thing you like about gardening, Miss Kayla?

Mentor: The best thing I like is how I get to grow things ... and have fun!

Student: How important is gardening to you?

Mentor: Gardening means I help the earth make shade, grow vegetables to eat ... and it's fun!

Student: Wow! That means a lot, Miss Kayla. What goal do you expect to achieve when you complete your gardening class?

Mentor: Eating my first harvest at school ... and this is exciting to me because I've never done it before! (There's a lot of things I've never done before either, I thought ... and it feels so good to be back in class again with a group of people who thrive on learning something new and beneficial, not just to help themselves and their family but to aid their small community on Earth!

Student: Thank you very much, Miss Kayla, for taking time to answer my questions. You've helped me to understand a lot today and I appreciate your time and your expertise in gardening.

Mentor: You're very welcome!

Miss Kayla and I shook hands and I thought the interview was complete. But suddenly, I felt compelled to ask her one more question.

"Miss Kayla, have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up?"

Hoping she would blurt out "master gardener!" to the delight of all the teachers and volunteers within earshot, she firmly stated with total seriousness:

"Yes, I've thought about it. I want to be a vet."

I gasped quietly, holding back the happy tears as I pictured my Gracie in good health. Miss Kayla had just given me a double smile with hope for the future. I was privileged to meet this young lady and I have no doubt she will follow her dreams.

I sure hope the school gardening program, with all of its wonderful Loveys, even 1st-grade Loveys, goes on and on, generation after generation!

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