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When Miss Bridie prepared for the trip which would take her to America in 1856, she could have taken with her a chiming clock or a porcelain figurine. Instead, she chose a shovel from the barn – a woman after my own heart.

This children’s book, written by Leslie Connor and illustrated with woodcuts by Mary Azarian, gardeners both, takes us along as Miss Bridie uses her shovel to help grow a new life in a new land.

Miss Bridie digs her first garden behind a shop where she finds a job, but soon is married and using her shovel to dig post holes for sheep and goat fences on their new farm. She builds a root cellar, shovels coal into her cookstove, and plants an orchard. When tragedy strikes, part of the farm is lost, but the shovel survives and is used to help rebuild.

We have those few possessions, don’t we, without which we cannot imagine carrying on as before. Often extraordinarily practical, these are the things we’ve used to build our lives. These are the things which fit perfectly into our hands, and our muscles know how to use them.

Sometimes when circumstances strip us bare, a hoe or a sewing machine or a pair of snowshoes can save us. Years ago, during a season of sadness, I remember thinking, “If I just have my bread bowl and my garden tools, I think I will be alright.”


Bread bowl – a gift from my mother

An object can carry with it the memory of when we first learned to use it, and of the teacher. Without needing to recall the lessons with intention, our bodies remember with a grace of use reserved only for the things most at the heart of who we are.


Singer Featherweight 221 portable sewing machine from my grandmother, who taught me to sew

So when Miss Bridie could have chosen a lovely remembrance from her old home, but took a shovel from a peg in the barn, I understand. I am, after all, the woman who, when offered a diamond engagement ring long ago, chose a woodstove instead.