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Laurie Nienhaus

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Through the Garden Gate with Toads, Frogs, & Celia Thaxter
By Laurie Nienhaus
Friday, January 04, 2008

Rated "G" by the Author.

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If only I was of sterner stuff!

   I am a great admirer Celia Thaxter, the late Victorian author, poet and painter.  Miss Thaxter was famous for her summer salons at her father's resort on Appledore Island where the era's artists and writers visited for intriguing conversation and to stroll through her famous garden. You can imagine my pleasure when my dear friend, Miss Maggie, arrived for a visit bearing Celia Thaxter’s 1894 book, An Island Garden.

   We immediately headed to a shady spot of my own garden to enjoy a pot of Darjeeling and my strawberry foxgloves.
    As we chatted, I idly thumbed through the book and chanced upon a page describing the author’s fierce battle with slugs. As I, too, was similarly engaged in such a battle, I momentarily lost the train of conversation in my desire to discover Celia’s solution to what is truly the most loathsome enemy of the garden.

    A kindly soul had pointed out to her that slugs and toads were sworn enemies. Celia immediately enlisted a force of "only too willing boys who set about the work of catching every toad within reach." She was apparently quite pleased when the toads arrived and “skipped out of the overturned box” to later be found “hopping merrily over the island.”

    “I’m not boring you, am I darling?” prodded Miss Maggie. “I seem to have lost your attention.”

    I managed to whisper, “Frogs.”

    She quickly arose and pulled a lace hankie from her pocket, ready to shoo away any creature hopping towards us. “Oh dear, you’re not going to faint, are you? I‘ll gather the tea things; you run for the door.”

   Without speaking I handed her the book.  She sat back down and read for a moment.

   “Ah…,” she said, looking up at me over her glasses. “Miss Thaxter seem to have been of sterner stuff than you.”
   “Perhaps she simply was never awakened from a dead sleep by a frog jumping onto her head!”

   “Hmm…perhaps not.”  

   This did indeed happen.  How the frog found his way into my bedroom remains an unsolved mystery, but it was a watershed moment. What had been only a mild distaste became a dreadful adversity.

   Miss Maggie read on aloud, “All summer I came upon them in different parts of the garden, waxing fatter and fatter til they became as round as apples.” She again looked my way. “Shall I stop dear, you’re turning slightly green.”

   I weakly shook my head no and she continued reading.  Apparently, as Celia Thaxter’s toads busied themselves reaching sizes of alarming proportion, she discovered an article in a local paper mentioning something about “rendering the premises attractive to them” and “exercising gentle force in bringing them back should they show a tendency to wander.” I don’t quite remember the details as Miss Maggie's voice was beginning to sound far away. I wondered if indeed I might faint.

   Finished, Miss Maggie paused before calmly proclaiming, “I think you should build a toad house.”

   Aghast, I dryly replied, "Have I ever mentioned that you’re not the ideal guest?”

   “In the first place,” she continued as if I hadn’t spoken, “toads have dry, bumpy skin.  A frog’s skin is moist and slimy.  There’s a world of difference between them.”
   I could stand no more. “It makes no difference in a nightmare!” I rose and headed for the house.
   Miss Maggie called after me, “Perhaps the frog was only trying to kiss you! He may have been your prince!”

   My dear Miss Maggie continued to work on me and, by the time she left several days later, a broken clay pot lay on its side under the strawberry foxgloves. I had promised hospitality if a toad – or a frog – should make the abode its home - but, only if he didn’t hop too merrily too near me.

   I had also promised to look harder for my prince.

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