Sunday, May 9, 2010

On Mother's Day, Some More of the Memoir

Here are the first few pages of the book, Morning Glory: A Story of Family and Culture in the Garden. Happy Mother's Day to the woman who has given me a green virus that is getting worse and worse each year--thank goodness.

For the last hour I’ve drifted in and out of consciousness, serenaded by the dull drone of a lawnmower and the confusion of where I am: my apartment back in Ohio, the bedroom I had as a child, or my sister’s former room, now my parent’s cramped guest room. It’s ten a.m. and the minor jet lag from a five hour trip is still clearly in my system.

I slide over to the bed’s edge and carefully peel back the blinds. Only one part of the front yard is in sunlight, the thin strip of grass along the street and the eight foot tall rock garden sloping up toward the house. The bed itself stretches from the driveway to the property line, about forty feet, and is scattered with larger stones that are settled in amongst river rock. I see the mower beached on the lawn near the corner of the garden, and like an arrow, a spade’s handle and arm peaking out from the edge of a sugar maple’s dark canopy.

I’ve come home for a visit from grad school where I was working on a masters degree, begged for months to take time out of my writing and teaching, and now that I’m here I’ve woken to an empty house. Downstairs, the shades are up, the sink is full of dirty breakfast dishes, and the windows open to a cool, lingering spring in a June morning damp with the scent of lawn clippings. This was hardly the open-armed visit I’d expected, so I decide to go in search of one, knowing the exact location lies outside.

For years I helped and learned from my mother around the house, literally around—outside in the yard within the borders of less than an acre in the western Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen. We planted together in the three months a Minnesota summer allows, and my apprenticeship was at times a willing one, but more often than not like forced labor. This meant I never learned much about plant names, cultivars, what would grow and how it would fair in zone four. I did, however, learn how to dig a ten dollar hole for a one dollar plant. In many ways the garden is still a foreign place to me, and my walk through it is part awkwardness and distance from my mother, a woman unknown to me as the flowering perennials.

“Hey, Mom.” I whisper from twenty feet away.

“It’s good to have you home, you know, even if it’s just for a week” she says to the depths of a shrub rose she’s pruning at the base of the rock garden.

“Are we doing anything for lunch?” I ask, wondering if I’m being intrusive, what mood she’s in.

“I don’t know, whatever you want. Hand me that spade, will you?” She stands up, grabs the shovel she’ll soon use to dig another hole, leans on it with her left arm, and wipes her brow with the other. Her pastel green gardening gloves are dark brown at the tips, a pile of already drying weeds and twigs are behind her on a patch of lawn.

“The morning glories don’t even make it to noon, do they,” I comment, turning my attention over to a copper obelisk covered in languid vines and blue-violet blooms hanging limp like popped balloons. These were some of the only flowers I could confidently name.

“No. It’s too hot today. But there sure are more of them this year.” She quickly looks in the other direction, as if she was a pivot sprinkler, and slowly brings herself back from wherever she briefly was. “Just lucky I guess.” She straightens and stretches her legs, lets the shovel fall back behind her, and places her dirt-caked gloves on her hips to lean back and look at the obelisk. “They remind me of my grandma’s house on Spring Street in Racine. She loved flowers, and every time I went over there the house smelled differently depending on the time of day.”

Mom suddenly kneels back down and starts scratching in the rocks, the sound like marbles placed in a cloth bag. Her work is a continuing conversation in itself, so in a way ours hasn’t ended, but it has. She focuses on her next task careful to relish in her alone time. I notice a bumblebee hovering near one deflated morning glory bloom, and with only a moment’s hesitation, it finds its way into the deep well of yellow pollen, gathering what little it could before moving on to the next bloom, and the next, guided by ultraviolet markings neither I nor my mother could see.


Liza said...

"I did, however, learn how to dig a ten dollar hole for a one dollar plant." That's a great line. I was a farm child laborer as well, I get that.

gardener said...

Great site, I think we can all learn something from your idea.this is fantastic looking blog..and I love the way you write!I hope you pick up the blog again soon.

James Golden said...

Powerful scene. Very restrained. No hugs, huh?

Benjamin Vogt said...

Liza--Nice to meet a kindred soul!
G--I haven't dropped the blog, are you spam?
James--The whole book is very restrained, silent, full of emptiness and negative space and dark matter. In that way it's much different than what else is published (sensationalistic and, if I can be so bold, cheap).

Layanee said...

Lucky Mom.