This morning I looked at my pine island and whimpered.
Mind you, my husband, children, and in-laws all lovingly fixed up my pine island as a Mother’s Day present to me. And what a glorious present it was!
Unfortunately, I didn’t properly maintain the pine island. Kids went to camp. I had RT and Heart of Dixie and the national RWA conference and revisions and meet & greet and…oh, you get the picture. Life has been a flurry of activity, so much to do and so little time in which to do it, but this morning as I was whimpering I had an important realization: one of the reasons why that pine island bugs me so much is because it reminds me of who I was and who I am.
I can remember the infamously hot summer (either 1980 or 81) and sitting underneath the tree at the end of Granny’s driveway. I had a hoe, and I was going to do my garden work even if the adults had to take a break in the shade. My father, with a twinkle in his eyes, told me to go on, then, if I thought I could hack it. I lasted about thirty seconds.
All of my other gardening expeditions are mostly a blur. Going to the garden to hoe weeds or to pick beans was very much a part of my childhood summers. I don’t remember thinking to question it. I do remember a particularly hot July day in which I ended up picking up potatoes AFTER we watched an episode of Donahue, so that would’ve been close to lunch. I don’t recommend it. I remember another potato picking up incident in which my mother had gone along with our neighbor, Diane, to show West Tennessee off to some Mexican businessmen. They were from the northern part of Mexico and thus fascinated by how lush and green (read: humid) everything was and by the number of trees they saw. I can’t know for sure, but I think they were quite surprised that in the United States, wives drove dignitaries around while husbands, children, and the elderly picked up potatoes in the heat of summer. When Diane and mom brought them over the bumpy ruts that led to the garden, they seemed stunned. I still remember how my father didn’t want to shake hands with them. They were, of course, in business attire. We were in our rattiest tees and jeans, sweat pooling under our arms and dirt caked under our fingernails. Granny was wearing a bonnet that made her look like a Little House on the Prairie extra. I don’t think she ever stopped her methodically slow manner of bending over and picking up the potatoes that were closest to the top.
I have one last garden memory: I had come home from college and knew the green beans needed picking. Mom and Dad were both at work, so I put on my garden clothes and went up to the garden with an empty five-gallon bucket. I didn’t make it half a row. The plants were so damned itchy, and the heat made me dizzy. And to think I thought I was soft that day.
A few years ago, I bought an heirloom tomato plant from a vendor on theMarietta Square. I wanted to get back to my gardening roots, but she didn’t want to let that plant go. It’s as though she knew I wasn’t the right parent for a plant whose seeds had been so meticulously saved over the years. I also planted a jalapeño pepper plant to keep my tomatoes company. Both plants did well, but I made the mistake of planting them just outside my breakfast room window. Many slugs braved the journey underneath the baseboards to visit us. That was new, exciting, and….disgusting.
Even worse? I never ate those tomatoes or the peppers. I harvested them, but I wouldn’t eat them. Now I know why: I didn’t trust myself. Somewhere in my subconscious, I was afraid I had done something to those plants to make their yield inedible. I picked the perfect little jalapeños and looked at them, turning them over in my hand and marveling at the thing I’d grown, but I wouldn’t eat them because I felt like a poser.
And I am a poser. My soft suburban self doesn’t wash the car anymore. I could tell you it’s due to water restrictions, but I think I’ve gotten too lazy to
fight the weeds around the spigot and drag out the hose. Or perhaps overwhelmed by all the other things I need to do, things I can do from the air-conditioned inside. I don’t get out there and take care of that pine island, maintaining the good work that was done for me on Mother’s Day. I’ve braved it once or twice, savagely cutting back the bushes that refuse to curb their growth to meet the demands of civilized life. The last time I hacked at the no-name bushes, Ryan was afraid they wouldn’t grow back. But they did. They always do. I lopped off the crepe myrtles, hoping Google could guide me in what I was doing. The other yards in my neighborhood are perfectly manicured. Something about that manufactured perfection annoys me. Nothing is perfect. The plants don’t want to grow in those directions.
The greatest irony of all of this is that the weeds that insist on encroaching upon my pine island are pasture weeds, reminders that the land where my house stands wasn’t always suburbia. They’re thorny, so thorny that I don’t have gloves thick enough to pick them up without their biting through and stinging my fingers. They also grow up through my shrubs, and I wonder sometimes if *I* am not like those weeds, a stubborn interloper who doesn’t really belong in the suburbs. Sometimes I don’t want to grow in the direction that my neighbors do. I don’t feel the need to play at perfection because I’m mostly content with my lack thereof.
Of course, I don’t think I’d make it out in the country anymore, either.
Maybe those conflicting feelings are a lot of what led to Bittersweet Creek. I did have Romy try–and fail–to pick green beans on her first attempt, just as I did. She also snagged her leg while trying to hike it over the electric fence. I did that, too, once upon a time. But I didn’t have her dealing with the landscaping because that’s something I never once did out in the country. I like to think she got over being soft and suburban.
The jury’s still out for me.