The Stationmaster’s Garden

The Stationmaster’s Garden

The summer storm seemed the last insult to an already injured spirit, and I ran, tears cascading down my face. Not for home, as that was a good mile away and I didn’t expect either sympathy or understanding there, but rather to one of the hidden places we’d played in some weeks previously.

The stationmaster’s cottage had long been demolished; I’m not sure now it even existed except as a part of the fantasy landscape that the kids I played with constructed around the railway line that ran past the edge of the small town where I grew up. Tales of Victorian train crashes, culled probably from films and books rather than any real events in local history were the basis for various games of ghostly goings on and gory play-acting. Something had been there for sure, for the narrow strip of ground hidden by high hedges and overgrown fencing that collapsed at the slightest kick, contained cultivated plants and feral flowers that we all knew did not grow wild. The belief was that this hideaway had once been the garden belonging to the stationmaster, and screened from the road and the railway by vegetation it was the perfect place to play out of sight of adults. We weren’t sure if we were trespassing or not, but since we were not actually on the railway embankment proper, it felt like this was a safe place.

That day, my friend Tina had decided, out of the blue or so it seemed to me at the time, that she preferred another girl to play with. After a couple of awkward days of three of us playing, I found myself surplus to requirements and was driven away by the other two. Children can be cruel without a thought, and that thoughtless cruelty that sent me running away cut me deeply. I was not wanted, I had been rejected as being… well, there were no reasons given and as an adult I can think now more kindly of the whole thing. Tina simply needed a very different friend for a while. We were growing up fast then and people change.

So I said OK, I’ll go, and I went. I believe I left with dignity and without reproach but my memory may be playing tricks on me. Once gone from sight I began running, and that’s when the rain started. A hot day had brewed a sudden storm, with pelting rain that drenched in seconds. I was soaked to the skin in a few minutes, and with nowhere to go but home, I ran for the stationmaster’s garden. You had to crawl in through a gap in the hedge and then you found yourself in a partial green cave.

It’s long gone now but that long thin strip of lost garden was filled with old fashioned cottage garden plants, fighting valiantly against more robust weeds like bindweed and cleavers. Honeysuckle twined amid the hawthorn and elder and sloe that made up the bulk of the hedging. Bright blue flowers (Canterbury bells I later discovered) straggled here and there. A few aromatics like a leggy lavender and rosemary fought against choking grasses.

I lay doubled over, sobbing, emotions too powerful to contain or articulate spilling over. I had no words to explain how I felt, so there would be little point going home when I could not tell my mum what was wrong. The bare facts did not seem to justify this explosion of pain. I rolled over onto my back and the rain that made it into that dense green shelter pounded on my face. I cried, silently, but wanting to howl and knowing I couldn’t. This was a secret place. I lay there, knowing I’d be in bother for the grass stains on my clothes but not caring. I wept until quite suddenly I could weep no more. Sun touched my face, making me open my eyes. The rain had stopped as abruptly as it had begun and the clouds were gone. Brilliant sunshine was drying out the grass and the flowers and a robin was singing somewhere close by.

Something had changed but not merely the weather. I’d gone in there, feeling as if I might die from the internal pain that I couldn’t even describe, and yet, within twenty minutes it was over. Oh, I felt sad, for sure, and angry too, but the white heat of rejection was gone. I was dimly aware that it didn’t really matter much, not really. The sun and the rain and the robin and the flowers, they were what mattered, because they were there when no one else could be. Being in that hidden place, away from people and with only nature as my companion, had brought that storm in me to its close.

To an adult the stationmaster’s garden might have seemed a poor scrubby remnant deserving of no second glance but to a child that secret garden contained real magic that I can feel to this day.

(This narrative came to me following a meditation called Dreams Come True from by the wonderful Jackie Stewart. It’s a real event from my life that I began to understand after going deeply into my own past)