Don’t go in the ravine…

“And don’t walk around on the bank behind that line of irises.  The ground is soft and it’ll throw you.  You’ll wind up twenty feet straight down in the ravine and I’m not sure how we’d get you back up.”  Dad’s given me that warning three times now.

Yesterday I asked him,  “So I guess you know this from personal experience?” 

“Yeah, I didn’t think I was ever going to climb back up.  And right now’s not a good time to go in the ravine, anyway.  The snakes are out.”

“You’ve seen snakes?”

“Nope, but I know they’re out.  They like this hot weather.” 

It’s too darn hot…. too darn hot…  That’s from Kiss Me, Kate, isn’t it?  Yeah, well, over here on the ravine, it’s too hot for kissing Kate or anybody else and it’s defnitely too darn hot for gardening.  I was going out at 6 a.m. this morning – I didn’t.  I was going to come in at 9:00 – I didn’t.  By noon I’d dug up about fifty iris tubers and planted four barberries and weeded out about twenty clumps of crabgrass.  Spent?  Oh yeah, I was.  And hot.

I was downstairs early so I should have gone on out there but I was watching a big black dog chase a fox – stupid dog.  The fox was having a teasing good time.  Back and forth across the back yard they sprinted with the fox taking a confusing occasional detour into the ravine on one end and back out on the other.  Blackie’s ears went straight up – Huh? he said.  What’s this?  And finally, he could stand no more; he plunged down into the ravine beside the compost bin, one of the favorite foxtrots. 

Fox came back up and sat down in front of the roses and leisurely scratched himself.  Now – I’m not saying that something got Blackie down there at the bottom of the ravine, but I never saw him come back out.  Not a good time to go in the ravine.

So I didn’t get outside until I thought perhaps Act III of the drama had ended but then, I didn’t have a script in front of me to make sure.  My plan was only to plant the barberries, two red and two green, and to weed a sizeable patch of the back corner garden, the one that has the foxpath to the ravine on Don’s property.  (Don is our bachelor neighbor.  We think of him as the Don of the neighborhood.  He sees all, knows all.  And he grows some wicked tomatoes.)

“Good morning, Miss Diana.”  Don made me jump.  I didn’t see him digging around in his lettuce and onions.  “What are you doing this morning?  Garden’s looking good…”

“Well, I spend most of my time on it just pondering.  Then I spend the rest of my time wondering why I don’t get more done.  Guess I’m going to dig dirt today.  Lettuce looking good, Don.”

“Get you some of it.  Onions almost ready, too.  What are you digging on?”

“Going to plant these little bushes.  Then I think I’ll move a couple of those irises over here by the daylilies.”

Dad and I heeled in a thirty-foot line of irises on the ravine bank last fall when we moved in.  They’ve needed weeding, or moving, or both, so I determined to start transplanting a few at a time, here and there.  Sure enough, the first ones I dug up had some root damage.  It was a quick thought – as opposed to my usual meandering ponder.   Uh-oh, I better dig all these things up and clean them up and get them moved before I lose the whole bunch of them.

I dug.  I wiped my face with an old damask napkin.  I dug.  I sprayed myself every few minutes with the garden hose.  I pulled grass and vine out of the roots.   I dug.  Too darn hot.  I checked my cellphone; yep, still in its plastic ziplock bag.  (I lost the last one to garden sweat.)  I dug.  I separated the tubers.   I got the whole row of irises dug up, cleaned up, separated.  And I only threatened a plunge into the ravine twice. 

The first time I was rescued by an unwitting muscadine twined into a tight thick pad on a felled tree.  The other time I grabbed the edge of the compost bin and pulled and crawled back up.  That ground was soft and it threw me.  Snakes are out.  Big black dog is down in the ravine.  How would I ever get back up?

I went to see Dad after lunch.  He said he’d been outside but didn’t get any work done.  “Too hot to do much outside,” he said.  I told him I dug up the irises. 

“You did?  You better be careful walking on the bank behind where those irises were.  That ground is soft and it’ll throw you.”

“Yeah, well, guess what I saw this morning…. that big black dog was chasing a fox across the back yard….”  I went on to recount the story.

Dad thought for a minute.  “Well, I’m not saying something ate him up down there in the ravine, but you never saw him come back up, and I never saw him come back up…”

Just sayin’.

 

Moving…it started this way

This is what is commonly called “backstory.”  Or maybe it’s just a flashback.
August 20, 2009  –  Dave and I are going to move. Not far away but to somewhere completely different from the upper-middle affluence of Brentwood. We’ve been in dialogue for some time with my nearing-80-year-old parents. It’s time for them to leave the farm; there will come a time shortly when they will no longer be able to drive themselves around Chestnut Mound, Dillard’s Creek and Dickens Hollow (say “holler” and you’ll talk like the rest of us…).
Dad retired from the Granville United Methodist Church on Father’s Day this year – but he didn’t quit work. He had already contracted as a substitute teacher at the high school in Carthage. Mom, on the other hand, maintains her position as a bookkeeper at D. T. McCall’s and works four and a half days per week.
So we thought we had some time to look around; we thought we could “stage” this two-story, steep-staired Brentwood home and get it on the market, oh, maybe February. We even rented a storage unit and started moving “extras” out of the house. (You know, of course, “staging” means you have to have an almost empty house save for a few items to show that someone could live in it: I don’t get it, but I’ll do it.)
And when Cry-Leike put the sign in the front yard, we’d start looking for a new home where none of us had to haul creaky bones up a set of steps to bed and where Grandmama and Grandpapa would be “separate but accessible.” We talked about buying a house with enough land to develop a good-sized modular home in the back, maybe even enclose a passageway. None of us wanted to be under any foot, no matter whatever size socks or age of whichever feet. We did not talk too much about finding the new home first, before Mom and Dad quit work, before Di and Dave might sell the house.
God is such a trickster… I mean, “Trickster.” With Her usual supply of surprise, She laid a house in the path in front of us when we got lost on the way home from ThriftSmart. No kidding. My goddaughter, Andie, and I took donations to this ecumenically-run church shop. Andie being home from Ithaca College without a job, she was more than willing to work a few hours a week for us packing up and sorting books, pictures, and the good crystal.
When we left ThriftSmart, both ends of Nolensville Road were blocked by street repairs so we took a turn up Northcrest, a street I’d never driven. After wandering and backtracking and seeing a familiar landmark at the end of one street, we were on our way home when Andie said, “Dinanah, I think I saw a house for sale back there – with an apartment.”
“Really?” I asked. I hadn’t seen it. “Maybe we should turn around and check it out.”
“So where’s the apartment?” I asked.
“There, over that garage.”
How could I have missed it? Huge. It was huge. The house was pretty, but the landscaping unloved and lonely. The sign said nothing about an apartment.
“Maybe the apartment isn’t for sale,” I said. “Let’s just write down this realtor’s number and I’ll call her tonight.”

Blackberries…it’s summer, so hot

It’s so hot on the ravine – really hot.  Mom and I decided that it’s just too hot to garden.  Well, Mom doesn’t garden; Daddy gardens.  That doesn’t stop her from deciding things like that. 

Last week, we went to Murfreesboro, about 30 miles away, to pick up a new arbor for the gardens.  Mom loves a little road trip; she often quotes Dad’s dad to describe herself and her sisters-in-law, “Want to go?  Any of these girls are ready when there’s a go on hand!” 

“Will we have lunch while we’re out?” she asked. 

“I suppose so.”

“Well, I’d like to find a new pair of black capris.”

“Okay, we’ll go to Kohl’s.”

“And have lunch?”

“Yes, we’ll have lunch.”

The arbor was out on a country road in a subdivision of new homes.  It made me smile, the lengths some gardener-homeowners had taken to make the homes look established, and older.  My seller had installed trellises and arbors and little ponds.  It didn’t all “hang together,” but the effort was appreciable and the arbor I was purchasing had been replaced by a taller and thicker model.  The gracious owner helped me load my new garden addition into the pickup truck and we tied it down and headed back down the rural road.

“Mom, look,” I said.  “Queen Anne’s lace.  Are those blue things what you’d call chickory?”

“We always called that wild bachelor buttons.  Oh look, there’s a lot of black-eyed susans, too.  We should get some.”

So I stopped by the road and parked the truck and pulled up wildflowers to tuck into the bank of the ravine, not knowing if we could keep them alive but imagining a bank full of white, blue, gold, and yellow next year. 

“I had some foxglove I dug up on the Chestnut Mound Road last year but I don’t think any of it is left now,” Mom offered as I pulled back onto the road, just glad to be back in the air conditioning of the Nissan.  “I guess I miss the wildflowers up there at the farm.”

Suddenly I felt the heat of the Smith County farmland and the sun on the hills and the shade of the box elder tree.   I knew what she missed…

“Blackberries, Mom.  Do you think there’ll be many blackberries this year?”  And I remembered a letter I wrote to Mom years ago.  It was more of a poem, and too sentimental, and Mom doesn’t go for the overly sappy – and I wound up giving it to her for Mother’s Day.

March, 1987

Dear Mom,

Today I opened a fresh jar of blackberry jam.  The sticker you put on the lid read “BB Jam 1985.”  I chose one perfect berry resting just on the top, and when the spoon left it on my waiting tongue, I thought of you.

The yellow in my kitchen becomes hot sunshine on summer hills.  I breathe in the smell of cedar trees, rocks, jimsom-weed, Queen Anne’s lace, and the barn at the heart of the hollow below.  Coil oil, warmed by the sun, drifts to my face from my ankles and wrists.  Some grandma or grandpa, from a long time ago, told us it would ward off ticks and chiggers.

I feel my hand reach into the bending briars, my long-sleeved shirt snagging in the intended protection.  My eyes follow rounded fingers, pinky in air, plucking one, two, three berries and then cupping them to my palm until it’s full enough to deposit them gently into the waiting lard bucket swinging from my arm.  I pause to peer inside to see if I have yet covered the boom and I hear you say, “Come on, Sis, we have to get at least two gallons.  Are you looking out for snakes?”

I glance to the ground in quick response as we move from briar to briar, and I see my Pa’s overalls tucked into oversized boots.  I take on patch after patch, collecting purple-black stains on my fingers, rips in my shirt, pricks to my skin – and chiggers. 

And every year, you tell me that it takes a cup of sugar for every cup of berries to make really good jam… that some people use pectin but we’ve never needed any…and that this winter when there’s a snow on the ground, won’t WE be glad we picked these old blackberries.

Mama, when I am old and you are gone and I miss you, I will search for a jar of your blackberry jam.  I will find that perfect berry resting on the top, and while my mouth – and eyes – water, I will think only of you and warm sunshine on summer hills.

Love,

Diana

Weedeating, Cardiologists, Dreams…

Living with aging parents requires a bit of patience, especially for the aging parents.

Mom and I are going to see Dr. Scovill today – He’s the cardiologist, been around for several years and we’ve loved him through bypass, stents, and check-ups.  When Mom and Dad still lived on the farm in Smith County, they would come to our house one afternoon about three to spend the night before her appointment.  We’d have a nice dinner together, the two of them retiring early to the big bedroom with the king-sized bed.  If Mom forgot her earplugs, she knew Dave would have some extras.  At home, Mom would tuck Dad in across the hall in his own bedroom.  We provided a similar sleeping arrangement but one time Dad got sick in the night and Mom didn’t hear him, so she finished the tenure on Beech Tree Lane one one side of the big bed avoiding Dad’s snoring. 

She and I would keep the appointment the next day while Dave babysat Grandpa while Grandpa read whatever new book I’d summoned up to keep him occupied.  That was when Dave still called him Grandpa.  Now that we live next door to each other, Dave calls him Ernie. 

After an hour or two at St. Thomas, depending on whether it was ultra-sound day or not, we’d leave for lunch just down West End toward town at PF Chang, Mom’s favorite.  She’d order something with chicken and I’d have my usual eggplant with ground chicken.  We’d laugh about how we were always later to the appointment than we had intended because we never knew which door to go in and we’d assure each other that Dave and Grandpa were just fine and didn’t want to come to lunch with us, anyway – “That’s what he said.”  Now that we live next door to each other, we don’t go to lunch after; we don’t even get lost any more. 

Dad mowed and trimmed our three-quarter acres yesterday.   I suppose it’s “three-quarters of an acre minus the two houses.”  He brought the John Deere from the farm when they moved here in November.  Good thing, because Dave is still mowing over at the other house that has yet to sell and there’s no way either Dad or Dave could walk this property the once-a-week it takes to keep it under control.  Dad misses spots; the white clover heads pop up with defiance.  His trimming is erratic. 

“Mom, we have to get Dad to stop chewing up the bushes and vines on the ravine,” I told her at breakfast Wednesday.  When I have “something to talk to Mom and Dad about,” I pop over in the morning.  Now, sometimes I just go.  For some reason, I can’t keep a half-gallon of skim milk without half of it spoiling while Mom buys by the gallon and never loses any of it.  Do you think maybe a gallon just keeps longer than a half-gallon, I asked.  Maybe so, she answered, And you know I always have milk so you can always get some here.

“What’d that old fool do now?” she laughed. 

I stopped in the middle of my granola.  “He’s waving the Weedeater way up in the air trying to trim the vines – He’s gonna hurt himself that way.  And then he tries to trim the bushes with it – you know, the wild bushes – and now they look like a goat has been chewing on them.  He needs to leave them alone.”

“Oh, I know.  He gets strung out with that Weedeater.  I’ve told him before – but I’ll talk to him.” 

I’ve learned to talk behind Daddy’s back.  For a few months, I plotted and planned any conversation that could be considered negative, or criticism, and I never felt good about any of them.  That’s because Dad is so sensitive that he needs some sort of “filter” for my talk.  I finally realized that Mom has been “filtering” for Dad for 65 years.  I’m only 60…  So now I tell Mom and she tells Dad and he asks me and … actually, he just continues to do things the way he wants.  If it’s that important to me, I try maybe three times.  I have a few successes I could note…

Daddy is so much less sensitive if Mom tells him something like “Put the damn Weedeater down.” 

Last night I dreamed that Mom died.  Dr. Scovill helped her die – at her request.  The next morning, she appeared in my bedroom.  She was young and thin with a pixie cut of thick, dark auburn hair.  She was wiggling into a pair of my pantihose. 

“Mom, what are you doing?”  My only surprise was the pantihose.  She always hated pantihose.

“Oh, just getting dressed for the day.” 

“Did you know you’re in my bedroom?”

“Oh, yes, I am, aren’t I?  – Okay, I’ll just go next door and see Daddy.  Come on over – I just bought a gallon of milk.”

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