Story written and published in 2005
I was wishing for spring as I drove home from work this afternoon. The sun was so pretty and I could almost visualize little crocus and hyacinths working their way up from fall and winter’s debris to show off their soft hues of new life. It made me think of buttercups. Not daffodils or jonquils, buttercups - those soft, paper thin pink flowers that grow wild, often beside our southern highways. I’m sure you remember them even if you haven’t seen any lately. When we were kids they grew in abundance at the back of my grandmother’s yard. We all knew what would happen if we stuck our noses in them, but we did it anyway. What good is it to have buttercups if you have no “butter” on your nose? They were so full of yellow pollen that if looked like you had been in a food fight supplied by a butter churn. It was even more fun to fool unsuspecting cousins visiting from Georgia. Georgia must not have buttercups. It always worked on them, at least once.
We always had great fun outside, which was fortunate since we spent so much time out of the house, partly to be out of our parents’ way and partly because there was no air conditioning. Mother and my grandmother both had the greenest thumbs. We lived next door to each other and it was like one great big botanical garden. They managed to have color in the yard all year, whether flowers, vegetables, bushes with berries or varying shades of evergreens. There were always places to hide in the garden if you were playing hide-n-seek or just waiting to jump out on an unsuspecting passerby. There were lots of big bushes and tall plants. There was also a trellis at the side of my grandparents’ house that had pink roses growing all over it. You had to pass under it to get from the backyard to the front. We had a tree in one corner that had seed pods that looked like green beans. We would “pick” these beans and pretend to cook them in old pots no longer used in the kitchen. We didn’t dare pick the real vegetables. Unlike today’s children, we knew the consequences of unacceptable behavior.
My grandmother always let me have my own tomato plant. We grew the biggest, juiciest tomatoes you ever tasted. They just don’t make them like that anymore. I liked to pull the small ones and eat them right there in the yard. We also had zucchini squash that would get big enough to use for baseball bats if you didn’t pick them often. She had beautiful roses, especially the yellow ones. My baby brother had a particular favorite. Mother called it summer poinsettia. I need to find out the proper name for them. As he was growing up the plants would often be taller than he was. We have pictures of him standing under them grinning from ear to ear. Grandmother always grew strawberries for this brother. They were his and no one else was allowed to pick them. He would run out everyday to see if any were ready. It was a good thing my other brother and I were a nine and six years older than Kevin and could enjoy him instead of being jealous.
I have to tell you a funny thing that happened to him one fall. He may not appreciate my telling it, but you will. Grandmother had let him help her plant pumpkin seeds in a raised flower bed on the side of the yard. He watched the vines grow and squealed with delight as the vines blossomed and then pumpkins began to form. One of them started to get a little size to it, but the vines weren’t doing very well that year. In order to keep the magic going for Kevin, my oldest aunt, who still lived at home, decided to start buying pumpkins at the store that were a little bigger each week and she would replace the one growing there so that he thought his pumpkin was growing bigger and bigger. He could hardly contain himself. It finally got big enough to use for a Jack-O-Lantern. It was all we could do not to laugh and give away the secret. As a matter of fact, we hid the secret very well. About ten years ago, we were talking about this and Kevin said, “What are you talking about?” He had no idea what our aunt had done. We couldn’t believe the secret had been kept for over 25 years. There have been very few times in his life that I have seen him more upset and disappointed. He was mad, not just at my aunt, but at all of us. We had tricked him and destroyed one of his happiest memories by telling him. I hope he has sufficiently recovered to laugh with us when he reads this in the paper. If not, I hope he will forgive me.
It is by no accident that we find garden settings for so many ceremonies, celebrations, religious retreats, etc. I am often drawn to our Birmingham Botanical Gardens, as I am no longer able to grow plants and flowers of my own. My husband and I took a stroll there this last Sunday. It brought back many lovely memories of trips there with my grandmother and the rest of the family. It also gave me ideas I would like to implement at home. Mostly, it gave me a sense of peace and contentment being surrounded by one aspect of God’s gifts to us all. It’s amazing that it takes a huge enterprise such as the Botanical Gardens to come remotely close to the garden of my childhood.
February 11, 2005
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