It’s hard to say when the gardening bug bit but I think it was more like a culmination of bites that swelled into one enormous green thumb. The result? A pleasant itch that must always be scratched and a plethora of memories that share a common theme. Plants.
I was raised on Jefferson Street in Harvey, IL, and if you know Harvey, you know it ain’t all that pleasant. It wasn’t then and it still isn’t. Poor, gang-ridden, loud. The kind of place where you’re lulled to sleep by gunfire, barking dogs and screaming. Where if you had a lawn you were the exception. We didn’t have a lawn. But I could make one badass mud pie complete with clover flower “frosting.” Our next door neighbor, Mr. Randall, doted over his lawn. It was a verdant carpet that met it’s demise in a drive-by. Some kid launched an enormous explosive from his car and into Mr. Randall’s lawn. It was actually pretty funny to watch Randall fly off his porch, beer in hand screaming expletives as us kids marveled at the enormous crater in his front yard. The Randalls were finally starting to fit in.
He had a son, Eddie, who had a girlfriend, Kristal, who lived across the street. They were several years older than me but I remember her zipping around on her skateboard, her rainbow striped duster sweater flowing behind her. I thought she was cool. Eddie wore the same thing everyday. Dark bell-bottom jeans and a Bark at the Moon t-shirt. For a kid who was into Michael Jackson, El DeBarge and Sheila E., his shirt meant nothing to me and I probably wouldn’t have remembered it if not for the image of the dog. I thought that was cool too. Eddie, not so much.
My memory is a little muddied (time for a child passes at a snail’s pace), but around this time my mom ordered three tea roses – Mister Lincoln, Peace and Tropicana – from Jackson and Perkins. She planted them beneath her bedroom windows in the backyard. With the exception of a small berry patch, there was very little back there and mom wanted to wake to the fragrant trio. She nurtured and checked them daily. As the buds swelled, so did her anticipation.
Then Kristal suffered a brain injury in a car accident and spent weeks in the hospital. Just as the roses were reaching their zenith, Kristal was waking from the fog of trauma. And when mom went out that morning expecting to see her beautiful roses in all their glory, she found decapitated stems. Not even a petal remained from the violence that occurred in the night. Mom was crestfallen.
Now stolen bikes and burglaries were a dime a dozen in our neighborhood. But this was a first. Who would lift someone’s roses? Eddie, unable to afford store-bought flowers for his girlfriend, got an even better deal in our backyard. When my mom discovered it was him, she simply said in her gentle way, “If you would have asked, I would have given you all of them.” The words of a true gardener.
I see Kristal from time to time. She’s the pharmacy tech at our Jewel. Small world. I couldn’t resist the urge to ask her about those roses. Her eyes lit up as she said they were the prettiest she’d ever seen. And with pride I told her they came from my mom’s garden.
Do you have a favorite rose?