Monday, April 9, 2012

Pulling Weeds

As I have been pulling weeds for weeks now with our heavenly spring weather [we got lots of weeds -- lots of beds -- argh!], I thought about the therapeutic-ness of weeding. Therapeutic-ness is so not a word.

Unlike Pearl of Scarlet Letter fame, who named the weeds after other Puritan children [who chased her and taunted her mother in the streets of Boston] so that she could mercilessly pull them from the earth and slam them into the ground, I gently pulled the many varieties of weeds in my yard: dallisgrass, plaintain, bristly mallow, mullein, and purslane. {I did have to hack a few of them with my handy, dandy, mini-tomahawk -- my favorite yard tool next to my “claw.”}

The tools do seem a tad violent, don’t they?

Pulling weeds allows me thoughtful time. Even though I do hear the birds singing, the occasional hum of the cars on the nearby four-lane, as well as the cars cranking as my few neighbors go and come through our cul-du-sac, these intrusions into my reverie seem pleasant --  not intrusive. Last Saturday, however, as many neighbors worked outside, I weeded to  “Highway to Hell” and “Every Rose Has its Thorn” [was that a warning?] which blasted from a neighbor’s radio.

I like the music of the birds and the four lanes' gentle, white noise better. *sigh*

The neighbor behind me has also been working in his yard, and he pauses sometimes and engages me in conversation.  Or. He talks; I weed.

He’s a fount of experiences -- he’s lived in a lot of places, been in many businesses, and currently has changed careers to “redo” himself.  Enrolled in nursing school and in his last year, he’s shared many times with me about how lazy the younger students are… as if I hadn’t seen that first hand. He’s quite surprised by their laziness as he sees their having such advantage over him with their younger minds and fresh from the education system.

“Do you know how hard algebra is when you’re forty-eight?” he tells me.

I nod. Age has nothing to do with my algebra nightmares.

My nursing school neighbor spent three days last week at a local hospital doing his clinicals. He told me stories about  the various areas of the hospital where he’s worked; he adamantly announced that he wouldn’t be interested  in Labor and Delivery as “pregnant women are crazy.” Labeling a pregnant woman “crazy” seems slightly redundant.

I listened. I nodded. I weeded.

Growing up, my mother taught us [made us learn] how to work in the yard. My daddy hated all things  associated with yard work, and he would have been fine with bringing in a load of gravel and spraying it green. My mother had higher standards.

BTW:  My brothers, sister, and I believed that our parents had us children just so they would have someone to do the work. [see previous blogs]

Along the left side of my childhood home next to the driveway, and on the fences on both sides of our back yard were roses --- a landscaping gift from the previous owners. In addition to these places, the previous owner also had installed an arbor at the end of the driveway and planted climbing roses that wove thickly through its intricate design. Mostly red but a few whites and pinks, this opulent display greeted the driver when he turned onto our street as our house was the second one on the left.

In season, the proliferation of roses created this almost solid mass of red and the aroma greeted us whenever we stepped outside. Mother made us appreciate them as she kept an eye out for ones of extraordinary beauty -- this a recurring theme. My mother found serenity in nature -- it brought her great joy: perhaps a leftover sentimentality from her own childhood growing up in the blue hills of Virginia?

Spraying and pruning them methodically, my mother tended the roses lovingly for years until we were teenagers, and our busy lives, as well as the growth of shade trees saw them gradually disappear. When my parents sold our childhood home in 1978, the rose bushes had dwindled to a handful along the driveway. 

One memory I have about "the roses" is the appearance of  complete strangers at our front door who stopped when they saw the display and asked if they could cut a few. “Of course,” she would say, but immediately and humbly tell how she inherited them and could not take credit for their magnificence.

On Mother’s Day, the tradition was to wear a rose, pinned to our Sunday morning church clothes, the colors symbolic:  red for a mother who was living and white if she had already “passed.“ We cut the roses from that garden  -- us always with a red one, my mother in red up until 1962 [the first year my mother wore white] and daddy, whose mother died when he was young, always in white.

But I digress.

Because of the beauty of those roses, my mother wished to keep the beds they were in weeded, and she charged mostly my sister and me with the weeding since the boys were destined for harder labor --- mowing the lawn and trimming the bushes. Ugh. I would so much had rather had what I perceived to be the easier job -- anything but weeding.

When my mother instructed, she demanded that we do it “right.” By her standards, she pulled weeds from the roots -- none of this whacking them off at ground level -- instead, using a spade and elbow grease, we were to dig down and around and remove them by the roots. “Clean break” she would nod as she kneeled and showed us how. Being raised on a farm, my mother understood the value of good habits in the fields and the resulting product given when done correctly. Later, when I was older, I found out from my mother’s sisters that “Hazel [her name] was too faint for the fields.”

Huh? My mother? Too faint? Please.

I despised weeding. I wished to be reading or hanging out with my best friend Marcie and lazing around her house listening to her Elvis records.

Weeding made me crazy, and I resented it with all my puny childhood anger. When mother told me to go outside and weed the “beds,” I procrastinated like a student writing an essay and stomped around till she practically pushed me out the back door.

There with the dirt under my fingernails, clods of clay sprinkled on my clothes, I would unearth earthworms and squeal, screech and run from the  bees, and just downright fume and fuss and prolong the agony.

Undaunted by my acting, my mother checked on me periodically and made me redo what I had already weeded because I hadn’t done it her way:  “clean” dirt beds -- no gangly green spouts of any height any where.

Mumbling under my breath that  I was being treated “unlike other kids” and being born to a “slave driver” of a mother,  I loathed weeding.  I made no impression with my “put upon” demeanor with my indefatigable mother. Like the disciplinarian she was, she held me to task, and I completed the job given.

What irony to now find me in the yard …. weeding. 

Meanwhile In Heaven:  My mother smiles as she pokes daddy in the ribs and points at me:  “Look at our Harriett Sue. Weeding.”

About the pictures: Unfortunately, I have no photographs of those roses except for this one taken of my siblings and me in the back yard.  My aunt Ava and Eleanor made the matching dresses. I'm sure the photo was taken to send to them and show off how cute we looked. :-)


  1. Oh, I love this. It is so rich with your history & traditions. And of course, us weed-puller kids (even if adults now) gotta stick together! ;-) Miss Harriett, I reckon you wove in and out of the past and present with ease in this telling. "Clearance" musta got under your nails.


  2. oh friend. you slay me too. these roses? those expressions on the children? the way you weed just like me, finding prayer in the quiet methodical action of pulling?

    you are a kindred spirit i believe.

  3. OH Harriet, everytime I see your photos I see my own childhood family pictures taken in the yard! I was never made to weed, but my Mom also has a love of yard work and weeding. None of those modern chemicals for her, it's ripping them out by the roots, all the way! I just my folks and your are gonna be great friends in Heaven! Lori

  4. So sweet and sad about the red/white roses. It's like being marked, in a way.

    Also: impressed you know the names of weeds!

  5. Why does those pictures look familiar? And why during that time mothers felt the need to dress the daughters in matching dresses? I swear I have the same pictures somewhere... My grandmother God Love Her, made my sister and I's dresses to match. We were sooo not alike!

    I love the stories Harriett keep them coming...they make my day! Love ya!