When I first began reading A Garden to Keep, I thought, I bet this lady talks ninety miles a second. I say this because Jamie Langston Turner's book never misses a beat, at times runs in circles, yet reads as if she's talking to an old friend. She recounts the falling apart of her marriage, and you feel as if she's sitting across the table from you, sipping coffee, and catching up on the last thirty years.
Although listed as fiction, the story is so real; you can't help but wonder if it didn't actually happen. In all fairness, I'll pretend that it didn't, and give Mrs. Turner the praise she deserves for creating a storyline that could be poured from every woman's soul. Elizabeth Landis "talks" nonstop, and in circles, explaining my title regarding the longest conversation.
What surprised me most is I followed right along, actually finding myself nodding in agreement, or sighing with disbelief. I immerged with feelings of true friendship, that Elizabeth Landis was a real person, and I was the recipient of her heart wrenching conversations.
The author immediately bathes your mind with Elizabeth's love of poetry, referring to works from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, T. S. Eliot, and others throughout the story. She describes Elizabeth, a substitute teacher, as polite. "That's me, polite all the way. All kinds of scathing, critical things can be running through my mind, but you'd never know it from the outside. My mother taught me good manners to a fault. You mention my name to anybody, and probably the first word they'll think of is polite. Polite Elizabeth Landis."
And smart. "Back in high school, in the 'Senior Prophecies' issue of our school newspaper, somebody wrote this about me: "Elizabeth will continue her career as curve wrecker in college courses such as Advanced Electrodynamics and Metaphysical Philosophy." So, okay, I'm smart. Maybe not off-the-chart smart like a bona fide genius, but somewhere at the upper end of the scale."
Polite, and smart - what could be wrong with that? Well, Elizabeth's polite exterior hides some pretty snobbish attitudes, in her own words. But, a life changing experience occurs when she attends The Church of the Open Door to hear one of her students sing. There she recognizes a woman from her poetry class, and ends up spending the day with Margaret and her husband, Thomas Tuttle.
Elizabeth has judged all Christians by the few she knew from her childhood. A family named Moffett lived next to her family when she was growing up, and Elizabeth remembers Mr. Moffett as "seeing every single tragedy on the face of the earth as a visible sign of God's judgment on wicked men, and he believed it was a Christian's job to point out the link between cause and effect for all the people who didn't see earthquakes and sickness and car wrecks and the like as the hand of God. And if a man could help God along by meting out a little judgment himself whenever he saw sin, well, he was only doing his Christian duty."
The other person she based her opinion of Christians on was a boy in her seventh and eighth grade classes named Rex Harkness. "For some reason Rex latched onto me as a friend. It was probably because I was the only one in the whole class who would lend him a pencil or piece of notebook paper, which he always seemed to be in need of. I was the only one who didn't treat him like dirt." Rex had two things against him in Elizabeth's opinion. He was poor, and he was religious. "Being poor affected the way he looked, of course, and like kids down through the ages, our school was no different in its treatment of those who didn't dress right. As for his religion, it manifested itself in the facts that he carried a New Testament in his shirt pocket, didn't participate in gym class on the days we danced, and bowed his head in the lunchroom before he ate."
However, in spite of these life-long feelings, Elizabeth Landis found herself very impressed with Margaret and Thomas Tuttle. That afternoon, after much discussion, Elizabeth herself makes the all-important decision to trust Christ. Returning home, she realizes that she's a different person, and regrets the years she wasted. Sitting in her driveway reading the Bible Margaret's given her, her cell phone suddenly rings. It was a Christmas present from her daughter Jennifer, and she rarely used it. She'd never even gotten an incoming call on it during the two month's she'd had it.
At first she thinks it's probably a wrong number, since she's only given the number to her children and husband. Then she fears that something has happened to her kids. When she answers the phone, she immediately recognizes her husband's voice. "I'm on my way," he said. He didn't quite sound like himself, but I knew it was Ken. There was a tone of something very close to eagerness."
After speaking back and forth for a few minutes, Elizabeth realizes that her husband has accidentally called her number, and thinks he's talking to someone else. Before the conversation ends, Ken realizes he's talking to his wife, and offers to bring something home for supper.
"So if someone were to ask me what happened on February 18, I'd say, 'Well, first God claimed me for all eternity, and then an hour later I drove home and found out my husband had a girlfriend. That's what happened to me on February 18."
Elizabeth finds great comfort in Scripture, and although she asks her husband to leave, she realizes that the love she felt had vanished over the past few years, was there all along.
Midway through the book, Elizabeth comments on her writing saying that she's digressed again by talking about her love of poetry. She says if she ever has any grandchildren, she hopes that they won't lose their patience reading this, or use these pages for kindling. She hopes they will have a love of poetry, reread all those parts, and maybe skip over the problems dealing with her and Ken. She also apologizes for dragging a part of the story out, and promises to wind it up. The writing style is very refreshing. As I mentioned earlier, it's more like a conversation than a book, and although Elizabeth rambles at times and then apologizes for it, she feels a strong desire to tell her story, and I'm convinced the story of women around the world.
I won't give away the rest, but trust me, - you'll see at least a little bit of yourself on almost every page. What kind of column is this, you're probably wondering by now. Well, having crossed through a few valleys myself over the years, and working with women who've been surprised by their husband's marital indiscretions, I just had to write more than a review. Consider this a recommendation. Forget your problems, make yourself a cup of tea, and relax by the fire with a story you won't soon forget.