Read an excerpt from The River Witch and learn how to grow pumpkins from character Damascus.
Georgia Author of the Year Award winner and one of six guest authors for our “Race in Place” Southern Voice theme, Kimberly Brock is an inspiration to other writers, encouraging them and watching them grow just as her character Damascus does with a giant pumpkin in The River Witch. Brock’s debut novel published in 2012 has main character Roslyn Byrne renting a home on Manny’s Island in Georgia to recover from a miscarriage and career-ending accident. She never expects her involvement with the Trezevants, her landlords, will place her on a path to healing. From her developing friendship with 10-year-old Damascus to the reawakened interest in the spiritual music of her Tennessee roots, Roslyn finds a new enthusiasm for life and living.
“Damascus has few memories of a mother who died young, but from their last autumn together, she treasures a letter from her mother with the secret to planting and growing a giant pumpkin. Or a little girl. As she follows these instructions for a harvest of the seeds she’s saved for years, Damascus learns some hard lessons about life and death and the struggles people face to forgive one another for both.” – Kimberly Brock
Excerpt From The River Witch
by Kimberly Brock
Inside a seed, there is a miracle.
Those were her mother’s words. She’d scribbled instructions on the back of a brown legal envelope. Inside, she’d left seven pumpkin seeds.
You must search for the perfect spot to plant your seed and then you can’t forget about it. Care for it every day, without fail.
On the envelope, Fawn Trezevant’s handwriting looked like flowers and ribbons. For years Damascus had traced the loops and slants, loving them for their sweet shapes alone. Before she could read, their meaning was a mystery that kept her tied to Fawn, an inky umbilical cord reaching from this world to the next. But two years ago, third grade changed everything. She didn’t go to public school. Daddy was afraid of how the kids there would treat her, what they’d say about the Trezevants and how people talked about what happened to Mama. So Aunt Ivy homeschooled Damascus and it was so easy. Damascus about did her work in her sleep and since Aunt Ivy worked so much, she didn’t have time to come up with extra stuff. But third grade meant penmanship and Damascus was excited about that. She actually spent extra time practicing on notebook paper when she ran out of room in the workbooks. Out with block letters and in with cursive writing. Time to grow up.
She hadn’t expected it when the words came clear with purpose and meaning. Damascus had simply pulled the envelope from her underwear drawer as she had hundreds of times before. But this time the words came at her in a rush. Without warning, she’d read her mother’s message.
It felt like a kick in the stomach, like falling without catching yourself and having all the wind knocked out of you. She hadn’t realized until that instant that she didn’t want to know what the letter said. It was better to be able to imagine anything she liked, just what she needed, any time she needed to talk to her mama. Sure better than stupid instructions for growing seeds, like she couldn’t figure out how to do that by herself. But once you know something, you can’t un-know it. Even now, she felt terrible about how carelessly she had wasted her mother’s words, their last conversation gone in a blink. And she didn’t know what to do with it, so she’d done nothing. That was the worst part. Except she’d decided for sure that she didn’t want to learn anything more than she had to. She did the work Aunt Ivy gave her, but that was all. And even when the required tests for the state showed good scores, she refused to even talk about public school when Aunt Ivy brought it up.
You can’t be hasty. You can’t be careless. Once you plant your seed, it will have to make the best of your choices.
Still, she’d made it a ritual, reading the words of mama’s letter. She’d memorized them, but she read them anyway, forcing her eyes to slow down and follow the letters even as her mind tried to race ahead.
Seeds need warmth, light and water to survive. They grow best in soil that has something to give, but not so rich that the seed doesn’t have to work at making something of itself.
And then, weeks ago, she’d overheard Aunt Ivy in the yard at High Dunes. She was rattling a paper at Daddy, telling him he might could let his own life go straight to hell, but she’d be damned if he would take Damascus with him. Damascus waited to hear her daddy chase Aunt Ivy off. She listened hard, but he didn’t say one word. That silence about scared her worse than anything before, and worse, she felt sick because part of her wanted to go with Aunt Ivy. That’s when she knew she couldn’t wait anymore. If seeds were miracles, her daddy needed one.
She’d put the seeds on a paper plate and dampened them, giving them a head start to sprout. They had started to smell funny. They were peeling in translucent layers, and she’d been worried it had already been too long since the day her mother put them in the envelope and sealed up their secrets. But Damascus hid them on top of the refrigerator to keep warm, sending them all good thoughts. The first green shoots were enough to make her feel like she’d done the impossible.
When the first little sprout appears, it will demand your protection. It will scare you to death, how easy it can be squashed. But when everything seems to work against you, when the world tries to kill your vine and the hungry things come, remember a good fight makes the strongest fruit.
She remembered the day her mother dug them out of the biggest pumpkin Damascus had ever seen. They had glistened, moist and buttery pale, smelling sweet and new. Her mother had sat these seven aside on an open newspaper. She had chosen these seven seeds from all the others for reasons Damascus could only imagine.
Watch over what you’ve planted. Treasure it and it will grow. And most important of all, don’t be afraid to cut deep and cut loose when things ripen. Don’t be a girl who lets her gifts rot on a tough old vine.