Sunday, May 10, 2009


Every Mother's Day I put something in the ground. Not just because it's the first safe day for gardeners (no danger of frost), but because I want to remember my mother, who passed away in 2001, and who most of my blog posts have been about.

But Momma ran marathons, she had no time for gardening. In fact, I don't think I EVER saw her with dirt under her nails. They remained perfectly manicured and lacquered, usually with Revlon's "Toast of New York". So today I should've gone for a run if my intention was to honor Momma. Instead I repotted my geraniums. Not technically putting something in the ground, but repotting is putting a plant in dirt. Giving it renewed life.

The tradition actually started several years ago when I wanted a wildflower garden in my front yard. My sister happened to come over after our Mother's Day visit with Momma at her caretaker's home. When Sis learned I was planting that day, she asked if she could help. So instead of dwelling on Momma's poor health, we dug up the front yard and planted a wildflower garden. It felt healthy to be growing something on Mother's Day. Instead of being depressed that our mother would never be the same, we were creating life. That wildflower garden came up tall and strong. But just before the whole area burst into bloom, my downstairs neighbors mowed it down, thinking they were weeds. Ever since then, I've planted something, or done some sort of major gardening project on Mother's Day.

I actually love to repot plants. And I usually wait to do it sometime in the spring. I like the feeling that they will be reborn, just as everything else is, in the spring. Giving them a new lease on life. Discarding the used up soil - dry, powdery with all its nutrients sucked out, for the moist new potting soil, chock full of plant food, and smelling of mold and earth and life. I gently coax the plant out of its root-bound prison where it has spent all winter trapped in a too small terracotta space, gently placing the root ball into a pot with much more room. Burying the roots in a shower of moist earth. Patting it down. Watering. Allowing the plant to get used to its new home. Sometimes I think I can hear the plant breathing a sigh of relief as it gently lays itself onto its new food-filled bed. From winter boots to summer sandals. At last, their rooty toes have room to wiggle around and breathe.

I'm taking care of my geraniums on this day - leggy things I bought years and years ago. They lay dormant and bloomless all winter, but explode into ballooney balls of color the minute they're placed on the deck out back. Explosions of red, pink, and white like flowery fireworks. And like I said, my momma never grew anything but her two girls. And our hair. And her hair.* But my grandmother Muddy overwintered her geraniums every year. I remember being shocked to learn this last year at her funeral. Then shock drifted away and I was left feeling comforted. Why, of course she overwintered her geraniums - mothering them through chilly sunless days, watering the bloomless green leaves - not panicking when most of the leaves dried out and fell off and you were left with just stems. Of course she did. It's probably why I do now.

When I was a teacher I overwintered my flowers in the classroom, and my students used to ask why I didn't just throw them out. "They're dead!" they'd exclaim. But no, I mothered them. Like Muddy did. Like my Nana mothered her iris and roses. And like Momma mothered us, nuturing, caring, cajoling. Scolding sometimes. Scolding a LOT actually. Standing by and hoping, praying when our flowers weren't as prolific or as abundant. Knowing that sometime soon, they'd come back. I put plants in the ground every Mother's Day because I want to remember Momma, and Muddy, and Nana. All the wonderful women who nurtured us, along with their flowers, when we needed it the most.

*in fact, we grew so much hair that when we all went for a haircut, they alerted the media. For real. But that's another story for another time...

Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Praying Mantis Green. And Lee Smith.

For various reasons, I haven't been writing. I've been THINKING about writing, but not actually doing it. Part of it was health related (more on that later) part of it was a much-needed change in jobs, but most of it was because the urge wasn't there. Something was missing to spur me on, to keep me going line after line.

But the health-related problems abated, the job changed, Spring came, and I found I was out of excuses. I made changes because the urge was there. I got that new job. Instead of Sirius or Itunes on the hour-long commute, I started listening to audio books. Began with Lee Smith's, On Agate Hill and found that as I traversed the rolling hills near my home, snaking my way around them to finally emerge onto the main road, Smith's words settled on my mind like a fine rain. She writes of Appalachia. Of doomed love, and tragic death. Real Southern Gothic stuff. The legends of my ancestors, both sides of which came from the very valley I reside in now. Her words sound like roots music. Like a banjo and fiddle. They lilt and yarn, twist and stretch themselves into a Southern langorous way, slowly meandering, taking its time. It calms me while at the same time inserts a longing, a missing of family in my heart. Family gone, and not gone. Because there are always memories. And so I'm urged to write by the sound of her words.

And as I sit here now at midnight, writing, up because of insomnia and because it is thunderstorming outside and my dog Lois is vitally afraid of thunder, I find I'm no longer afraid of insomnia. Or storms. I used to down benadryl like candy to fight the insomnia, to force myself to sleep. Now I sleep when it comes. If it comes at all.

I used to be afraid of Lois bolting during our walks, running away and never coming back, but when it happened today I wasn't afraid. I laughed, gathered myself up, and started singing out her favorite word, "Ride! Ride!" (she loves the car). She had bolted after a squirrel, causing the leash to run fast in my hand and me to almost fall over. She took off into the woods, racing, galloping like a thoroughbred, at one point all four legs were in the air at the same time, her floppy black ears pointing straight back off her head like pigtails, her smile wide and grinning. She raced away like a little girl child. But when I called, she turned to look at me - she seemed to be giggling - before running back.

We had been out for an afternoon walk in the woods. It has been raining for what seems like years and because of that the trees have exploded their new spring leaves all at once. Overnight my woods are a jungle of new life. Trees are covered entirely with a fine mossy green down. Tiny little green leaves. Newly born. Brand new spring. The whole world is the color of a praying mantis, a bright acidy green. The air smells mossy and green too, like an old cemetery. Like the cemetery we found as children in the middle of the woods. Full of stones so old they'd been worn down to nothing and the tiny plot surrounded by a rusty iron fence.

As we walk I notice the new fiddlehead ferns on the forest floor, the tiny violets, the wild dogwood and azaleas that struggle to grow in this deep woods. Tiny white rosebud type flowers on a vine that I can't identify. Everything is quiet and new and good. Even when I call out to Lois because of her running away, it doesn't disturb anything. It's more like a bird call.

I love Lee Smith's book because it reminds me of this forest. Quiet yet wild at the same time. Musical. Green. Old. It's a book I wished I had written because I have a feeling much of my family has lived it. But instead of me telling my family's story, she did. It's like she stole it away in the night. I love that she did it. But I hate that it wasn't me.

Click Here to Read More..