by Mimi Hedl
Aii yii yiii! As summer approaches, the head gardener’s temper has reached new heights. If not for my daughter’s class on conflict management, I may have gone over the edge. I bit my lower lip so many times it looked like a hive of bees stung me. Of course SHE never even noticed my lip. Yes, I know, it’s not about me, it’s about how we see the garden duties differently. And I respect her vision, she can just be so myopic, not give me any slack.
It started when the head gardener saw a “strange woman” mowing the grass, going lickety-split, (her words), showing her up and taking over one of her responsibilities. I’d given her time off while my daughter, Hilary and the boys were here. I thought she’d appreciate some free time but she must’ve driven by at least once a day that I could see. Who knows how often she actually drove by or even if she spied on us. I don’t really want to know, I just want peace and calm and some time off when I don’t have to feel guilty. Her calls would come and the lip biting would ensue.
When Brady and Logan come, I concentrate on them. I still have to do basic gardening chores, but mostly I cook what they love, take them to the creek, horse around, and soak up their enthusiasms. Brady tries to cream me at Monopoly. I, uhhum, “let him win”. Well, sort of. That’s another story. And Logan’s my bedmate. We sleep, all 4 of us, out on the summer kitchen, listening to the night sounds, watching the flickering of the fireflies, hearing rain on the tin roof, an armadillo scratching around under the house.
Hilary would get up at 4:45 to study for her class or work on a paper. (We three would sleep in until 6:30 or so. Logan would go from eyes completely closed to a sunny “Good morning”. That definitely warmed the cockles of me heart.) Hilary’s getting a master’s in Organizational Leadership and almost everything she studies has psychology involved. It’s fascinating to watch her stretch her mind into new fields after 23 years of flying a helicopter in the military. And she helps me stretch too, finding new ways to think about old ideas and not locking into a fixed way of thinking, hence I WILL deal with the head gardener.
We went to Mistaken Creek, a creek that runs through our bottom land, three or four times. It’s another world down there. No garden, but wild and carefree, plants of all sorts jumbled together as seed from upstream, overhanging trees, critters and whatnot, find their way into all sorts of nooks and crannies. I feel free, just like the boys must feel. I test myself on the plants, saying one name after another, while the boys are immediately into skipping stone mode. I’ve watched Brady go from not being able to skip at all (while his dad, Kerry, skipped with such power his arm made a whirring sound) to skipping stones all the way across Third Creek, 100 feet wide, hitting the rocks on the far side. He now has some of the power that awed me in his dad and an arm that never seems to tire. Logan, 2 ½ years younger, has caught on. He’s built like an attractive tank and will someday be a force to reckon with. Now he can’t quite compete with Brady, but we warn Brady, his time will come and it may not be pretty.
Roasting marshmallows in the coals of the cook stove took us into the evening of fireflies. They restrained themselves a few nights, having only 5 or 6 marshmallows, and then a few other nights they threw abandon to the wind and scarfed down so many Hilary and I felt sure they’d barf. They have stomachs designed for s’mores. And this year they were too tired to catch fireflies, hitting their beds early and zonking immediately.
Patrick, our neighbor, took the boys, one after the other, for a ride on his tractor, racing down the road to Mistaken Creek and back in jig time. It wasn’t a carnival ride but the boys had never been on a tractor and it was big stuff to them. Petra showed them the ponies, including a white Mustang, and offered the boys treats to give the ponies. They demurred saying they didn’t want to get that slobber all over them. That made me laugh as I watched how dirty they got when they play.
I try to remember childhood when the boys come. It’s a bit of a stretch because I also focus on keeping them safe and happy, providing them with their favorite foods, becoming a short order cook as the requests go from one meal to the next, never quite able to fit all the favorites in. We ended with dough gobs, a request from Hilary, remembering Ron making them and how she loved them. They’re a totally decadent treat, pieces of bread dough tossed into hot peanut oil, fried to perfection and eaten with honey and butter. The boys devoured them. Hilary and I did our best.
One Friday, an old friend from New Hampshire came to spend the day with us. Kit used to visit her parents in a neighboring town and her parents were my friends first. Kit and I met in 1998 and have been fast friends since. The boys took to her right away and we carried on as one big silly family. They even let her have some of their mac and cheese she coveted as we ate our adult meal.
Hilary found a pipevine swallowtail caterpillar as she mowed. Logan had a bug box so she brought it to him. It was a mature caterpillar and looked like it would go into chrysalis soon. We put that caterpillar and one Logan found on the screen door into this jar and in a few days they both had gone into chrysalis as if it was staged. Logan lamented he wouldn’t be able to see the caterpillar emerge, as he had learned in school it took several weeks. I’ll see it all and send him a picture, you readers too.
As we prepared to leave Strawdog, Brady commented that we’d go from the 1800’s to the digital world and video games, all in just a few hours. I felt amazed at his insight and willingness to comment on the two worlds. They’d go to a soccer camp in Saint Louis, staying with a friend of Hilary’s and her family, in what the boys rightly call a mansion. The day will come when Strawdog won’t appeal to them, so I treasure these moments with open-hearted gusto.
After spending a night in the mansion with Hilary and the boys, I came home to the fury of the head gardener. She was fuming in the driveway when I arrived and unleashed her anger at me before I could step out of the Honda. I felt tired and a little sad, the way you do when you leave people you love, and couldn’t quite focus on what she was saying. I asked her to come sit with me on the summer kitchen, have a glass of iced lemon balm tea. Lemon balm has anti-anxiety properties and I do believe the tea along with my new conflict management skills helped ease her tensions.
As we sat on the summer kitchen, a cool breeze blew, the fragrance of the catalpa flowers wafted in, along with songs from the Baltimore oriole and calls of the indigo bunting. I listened to her worries about getting the gardens planted, weeded, the peas harvested, the grass cut and on and on. She was almost frantic at the beginning but as she drank her tea and talked and talked, I saw her softening, opening up a tiny bit. When she quieted for a few minutes, I told her that Hilary cutting all the grass, all 6 plus hours’ worth of mowing, had freed me up. I’d planted all the beans, even some flower and herb seed. In a few short days, the gardens would be ready for summer and we could weed, prune, harvest, plant more beans as the peas finished up. The mowing would slow down, I assured her, as the heat of summer bore down, and we’d have more time for intensive weeding. I then told her how much I appreciated her patience with me as I had my vacation, how important it was for me to spend time with the family and wish that she would spend time with us too. She didn’t say yes, and she didn’t say no. I hold out hope that she’ll allow herself to blend in with the family, laughing and joking, helping to make delicious meals and maybe even roasting marshmallows with the boys.