I have read The Secret Garden at least once a year for as long as I can remember. (Continuing with the theme of India and England that has been unfolding over the past days, but I cannot find my copy of The Little Princess, and I love this story more, anyway). The young Mary is taken from her home in India after her parents die in a cholera epidemic and travels to England to live with her guardian, the haunted, hunchbacked Archibald Craven. Away from the heat and dust and burning sun and the abandoned bungalow (the word bungalow comes from Bangalore, so one character tells another in The English Patient) into the gloomy bleakness of the moor that surrounds her uncle's manor of a hundred empty rooms, where there is no ayah to attend to her every wish, only a strict, rarely-seen housekeeper and a housemaid. And then there is the secret garden. I have always loved this story.
This lonely child, plain and sickly and sour-faced, wandering around the hundred rooms where her ancestors once lived, or running in the gardens with no companion except for a chirping robin, wonders about the mystery of the locked garden, the garden with no door or no key. And then one day, she finds the key to the garden, finds the door hidden behind a falling sweep of ivy, finds herself standing inside this lost garden. And something blooms within her, the desire to make the garden come alive again, to make friends with Dickon and her cousin Colin, who has lived hidden away in one of the rooms of the great manor and who she meets one stormy night when she steals out of her own room to follow the sound of his sobbing.
Reading this story always gives me a sense of warmth and comfort, a sense of joy, as though I were curled up by the window with a pile of pillows and blankets and cups of hot tea and plates of bread and butter and jam and clotted cream. I must say I have never eaten hot fresh buns with currants or drunk milk from a tin pail. But I have watched spring creeping slowly into a garden, first the white-pink plum blossoms, stark against the dark branches, then the new leaves on every tree and bush like a pale green haze and crocuses peeping from the frost-glazed earth in a blaze of purple and gold; I have waited for early summer to come so I may see the climbing-rose vines burst forth in a fountain of pale-pink flowers. Even as winter falls I can see the promise of spring ahead.
An only child, I grew up daydreaming in the backseat of the car or at the dinner table as my parents talked of other things, or curled in a corner of my room with a book. (Or several). Now I find that nothing has changed. I think books are my garden, my secret garden, a place for my imagination to run as wild as roses who have grown abandoned along the walls of a locked garden, for words to bloom as quietly as crocuses, bright against the still-frozen ground...