Monthly Archives: June 2013

Weeding the Front Bed*

It was time. The weeds taunted me, choking our few perennials, their colorful petals just visible through the wall of green. The blueberry bushes trapped behind a prison of crab grass. Strawberries competing with towering dandelions for a bit of sunlight. Through the latticework fence I could see the neighbor’s well-tended, raised beds. They were weedless and overflowing, even so early in the season, with beautiful red lettuces and rainbow chard.

A long afternoon of work ahead.

I glanced at my new Ipod, freshly loaded with entertainment. Portable, easy to wear, perfect for an afternoon of repetitive, tedious labor. I paused for a moment thinking of the possibilities and then left the Ipod on the table and went out for the pitchfork and gloves.

I got to work.

Jam the pitchfork into the soil, rock it back like a lever, feel the roots give way, pull them up, shake off the soil, toss them in the bag. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss, let the mind wander.

I remember the beautifully smooth blacktop of the horseshoe-shaped driveway leading up to and away from the convent’s front door.

I remember looking at my friend, thinking what she was thinking. A road test is a road test, convent driveway or not.

I remember our certainty that the nuns had horses somewhere on the property. (Why the certainty? Because we wanted it to be true.)

I remember our plan. We would volunteer to weed the convent flowerbeds. The nuns would be so grateful that they would let us ride their horses whenever we wanted to.

I remember my parents’ pride when they learned that their 10-year-old would sacrifice some of her precious summer hours to help nuns.

I remember there were really not many weeds in the convent’s flowerbeds.

I remember the curved wooden door of the white stucco building, like a Bavarian chalet; the cool foyer where we’d wait for a few minutes after weeding while a nun disappeared into the kitchen and returned to offer us lemonade or a store-bought cookie. (Didn’t nuns bake?)

I remember that eventually, after the offer of free horseback riding never arrived, I did my weeding alone. Peaceful, silent, and shaded by the gardener’s carefully manicured shrubbery.

Jam the pitchfork into the soil, rock it back like a lever, feel the roots give way, pull them up, shake off the soil, toss them in the bag. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss, smile.

I remember Grandpa Lynch’s garden beds. Narrow borders around the small back yard, full of dahlias, roses, geraniums, and—always—tomatoes.

I remember Grandpa Flynn’s garden. One long, long bed between the clothesline and the patch of the yard where he parked the car. I remember rhubarb and zucchini and corn growing there. Probably tomatoes—everyone planted tomatoes.

I remember that Grandpa Lynch’s beds meant it was a city garden. Grandpa Flynn’s giant bed was a country garden.

I remember Grandpa Lynch, in his old Heileman beer t-shirt and his slacks (never jeans), weeding the beds and bringing in tomatoes. Always a fedora or a cap when he was outside.

Jam the pitchfork into the soil, rock it back like a lever, feel the roots give way, pull them up, shake off the soil, toss them in the bag. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss, remember.

I remember our first garden together. We’d signed up for a p-patch in our college town, rode bikes to work the tough, crummy soil. We planted tomatoes, lots of tomatoes, because everyone planted tomatoes. Corn, too, but we didn’t realize corn was truly a challenge.

I remember I’d always hated tomatoes, but that didn’t stop us.

I remember that harvest. We were up to our ears in tomatoes. We visited our parents in turn, loaded down with tomatoes. We had to get rid of them somehow. They already had tomatoes—because everyone planted tomatoes.

I remember deciding that I’d better start liking tomatoes.

I remember thinking, “Can all these people be wrong?” It took seven years.

Jam the pitchfork into the soil, rock it back like a lever, feel the roots give way, pull them up, shake off the soil, toss them in the bag. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss, thoughts meander forward and back.

I remember the story of the neighbor boy who wanted to surprise his mother by getting all the ants off her peonies. He proudly showed her the flower heads in a mound on the ground. No more ants.

I remember picking violets so I could give a bouquet to old Mrs. Frank, who seemed so lonely.

I remember my mother explaining that while Mrs. Frank thought the bouquet was pretty, she’d rather the violets stayed in her flowerbeds.

I remember the two little girls sneaking quietly up my front steps very early on a May morning.

I remember being fearful about their safety because of moments in the past when they weren’t safe. What could be wrong that they were coming over at this unexpected hour?

I remember opening the door to their smiling, sweet faces as they held a secret May Day bouquet towards me.

I remember saying, “Oh! Were you going to surprise us?”

I remember they nodded happily. “Then I’ll pretend I never saw you.”

Jam the pitchfork into the soil, rock it back like a lever, feel the roots give way, pull them up, shake off the soil, toss them in the bag. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss, remember.

 

*This is my take on the memoir style of poet Joe Brainard. Thanks to Philip Dodd for introducing me to Brainard’s work and for inspiring me with his own “I remember…”

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Root and Branch, Uncategorized