a little stunned bird compelled me to stray outside this morning to survey the damage done to bird (false alarm) and to garden (departing winter never leaves a clean canvas). as i wandered from one little inspection to the next, i succumbed to the call of spring: chores. trimming branches with my hedge clippers, untangling …
by luck of a trade of talents, a crew of vigorous fellows spent a long day here murdering, exhuming, and eradicating the sea of nasty, menacing weeds that took over what once was a casually woodsy and wild flower garden bordering my country house.
to reward their hard work, i of course served them a tray brimming with sandwiches, cold drinks, spicy bbq chips and a trio of hershey bars.
to me, these fellows are heaven-sent!
the palette cleared of the obstruction of too many hours of dismal toil that i clearly am too old to do, i ran off to the nursery bright and early to fill the volvo with a first batch of perennials in yet another attempt to tame the wild earth. this is the view that sits just outside of my french doors, as in a daily view, as in a view that should inspire rather than reduce me to tears.
the day to plant was sunny and cool, and boy, was i inspired. i had chosen my tools with care…walking over to the red barn to fetch a long handled spade, a strong-tined rake, and my pretty bright orange edger. i gave a little wave to my huge vegetable garden, letting it know that i’d be there soon enough…but first, i really needed to kick in some fragrant floral fun first.
the fun of a family compound is that there is always an avid audience.
my first visitors were a pair of white with black spotted pets: chin chin the cat perched on a few tumbled tree stumps (our idea of stepping stones, eschewing the too-tidy geometric ready to buy ‘stones’ that are frankly over my budget). she seemed peeved and not too mildly bored. astro, the really fat dog, dubiously guarded a spot of fresh soil where he had, the previous day, buried a perfectly good soup bone. no worries, pal: it’s all yours.
so, my solo system of planting and garden design is simple: carry the goodies, one by one, from the back of the car, and plop them down in various positions on the beautifully fresh black soil of flower garden canvas. standing back, i’d eye the groupings, rearranging pots as i saw fit, until i was satisfied with the families of color, texture and fragrance that were sure to burst forth in a few weeks of watering and sunny shiny days.
i’m sure my inspiration came from the saturdays of my childhood. after spending seeming entire weekends at d. hill nursery, my parents would arrange to have a barn-load of trees and shrubs delivered. building a house on a former indian river bed-cornfield-early settler farm, our property was ringed with old oak trees and ancient elms, and nothing in-between.
so, the fun part came when my parents would stride out to the huge yard and start ordering their five kids around. as in, “lizzie, be the birch tree, go stand over by the pool…john, you’re the blue spruce, go over there by the kitchen door…matt and mary, stretch out your arms and go behind johnny, you’re the white pines…” and on and on we’d go, statue like, the wood children appropriately playing the parts of young trees that would soon enough be rooted and thrive on the five acres where we’d all grow up, my parents settle for their entire lives, and my children and i eventually build our own house to add to the family compound fun of generations on the same soil.
back to the task at hand, as so many of the moves i make here where i live mimic and conjure up incredibly vivid memories, i look over my tools and choose the pretty edger for both it’s lovely color, and also it’s handy handle…just the thing to help me get this job done.
digging away, i’d managed to plant half a dozen perennials before another visitor happened by. settling cozily on my wide deck in an adirondack chair, a steaming cup of coffee at her side, my cute mom waxed on the loveliness of the scene. quoting several poems memorized as a youth, she took a break to ask me, “wouldn’t you rather use a spade with a point?”.
i looked up and smiled, at this point, a bit winded from crouching amidst a pile of dirt, crumbling bits of it in my gloved hands, patting down the soil and tucking in my azalea plant.
“i’m good, but thanks”, came my speedy reply.
a few more poems recited aloud as i moved on to the “deer resistant” little low-spreading evergreens, squinting my eyes to envision their color and texture against a few of the round wooden tree trunk disks that formed a path through what would eventually be a lush gorgeous field of flowers and fauna.
out of the garage stepped my cute dad. he had some chore of his own on his mind as he approached his car, but first stopped when he noticed his wife, my cat, my dog, and his daughter. the latter: covered in mud.
“wouldn’t you rather use a spade with a point?”
i took a deep breath, chuckled to myself, looked up first at my mom who let out a great big laugh, smiled at my dad and answered, “i’m good, but thanks.”
it does take a village. it really does. one big happy village.
stacks and stacks, thousands of offset print inventory bedecked with my whimsical little illustrations stood at the ready in the high basement of my renovated farmhouse in the village. boxes and boxes of envelopes, packing tape galore, stacks of pens and order forms, shipping cartons, a wrapping center, and an innovative device called a “cd player” to offer musical entertainment. all just a few short steps downstairs from my kitchen. what a buzzing, humming hive of fun!
neighbors, typically destitute single moms like me, walked over after dropping their children off at school, creating my little enclave of busy bees chatting, answering phones, packing orders, personalizing invitations, packing and shipping orders.
birds of a feather and all that, we single moms did stick together. i’m sure you’ve all heard of a phone tree: that set up designed to relay vital school information such as a snow day or church on fire to alert parents of a change in their children’s schedule. nowadays, it’s text and twitter and group email blasts, totally convenient but yep, a bit impersonal.
well, our little collective of gals, scraping dollars together to get enough food at the market to feed the brood, had our own inventive phone tree.
this involved the water man, from the village. sure enough, that bill was due like clockwork, was it once a month or once a quarter? i have no clue from this safe distance of time, but back in those days, the phone would ring with vigor: the water man from the village is coming down north avenue to shut off the water! you could almost hear the devilish, foreboding musical theme song to his shark-like arrival.
of course, none of us had paid our bills. times were tough, a budget was a challenge to meet, the children constantly needed new shoes (those darned feet kept growing!), food and shelter. sorry, water man, but he was last on our lists of people who got paid!
so, this was the tip off: once that truck was spotted over by the library, making it’s evil way to stop at the naughty houses who were filled with negligent paupers, turning off their water supply, the phones would start ringing. house by house, here he crept.
with the alert coming ahead of time, this was the job: throw off your icky yucky baggy sweat shirt and jammie bottoms, clasp on a push up bra, wear some tight jeans and a dangerously low-cut top, dab on some lovely alluring fragrance to cover the smell of bacon or pinesol, slip on a pair of heels and some fresh lipstick. then, casually and in a state of calm, saunter out on the front sidewalk to pick flowers or tend to the mailbox….don’t let them know you’ve seen them coming!
sure enough, as the poor fellow would pull up and be greeted by yet another sexy lonely housewife, his knees and his resolve would weaken, he’d hear your brief little sad story, climb back into his truck, granting you leave for one more week, just enough time to gather the thirty two dollars required to cover the months’ worth of water. batting your eyelashes in deep gratitude, with a hint of a really big thank you in some realm of his imagination, off he’d drive, leaving you without shutting off your water supply. victory!
yes, we girls do have to stick together, don’t we?
these days, i work solo, having moved beyond my notecard realm to something more independant, varied and challenging. i love it, i do, in my country hideout, the one with it’s own well: a comforting security after those crazy days in town.
do i miss the collective village of like-minded sleuthing women down the block? yes, at times i do, but i’m still just a text away from pulling them back into my cozy orbit, and now, too, and always, flooded with hilarious memories of those early fun ever-so-challenging days behind me.
indeed, it does take a village. and then some.