by Audrey Y. Scharmen
Mama was a realist; she originated the word practical. She raised a passle of kids in the midst of a dustbowl and a Depression. Her garden consisted only of edible things. If it couldn't be eaten, she didn't plant it.
I was a child with a fierce passion for flowers and color, and I would rush to the nursery to buy fragile little seedlings of something exotic and Southern for her on every special spring occasion, hoping that she might transform our sun-cracked yard into a real garden. Like the neighborhood dooryards where flowers crowded petal to petal in summer, where lived generations of perennials whose ancestors could be traced back to the first Conestoga.
Mama always graciously accepted my gifts and dutifully planted them in the hard ground, where they promptly disappeared. All her green-power seemingly went into the oasis of vegetables. Precious water was reserved only for them.
Some migrant moonflowers managed to establish a camp beneath the dining room windows, and an itinerant mock orange bush bloomed clandestinely beside the porch. A colorful colony of portulaca lived quietly among the little wooden crosses of the pet cemetery in the back yard, where our cats lay in eternal sleep. (The life expectancy of a Depression cat was brief.) But the remaining yard resembled the sad sepia scenes one often sees in photographic exhibits of grim-faced children and Midwestern moonscapes of the Thirties.
Mama was a woman of culture. She played piano beautifully by ear. Just whistle a few bars and she would produce the entire score (as the saying goes). Yet she actually traded the old upright one spring for a coop and a clutch of chicks (to go with the veggies). In fact, she was always swapping things. There were no heirlooms to haggle over when she died. She had made so many trades that the surviving pieces were all strangers to us.
Years later, when Nature acquired a more positive attitude toward the Midwest and we children had all grown up and left, Mama swapped the home place for a cottage on the edge of town. There she grew roses on an arbor and daffodils and a wonderful alley of peonies in the midst of a lush green lawn. She had a proper glider swing and a healthy cat - but no veggies.
Mama follows me still to the local nursery, where exotic plants, like school-yard vendors, beckon from every corner. I just say no and leave, laden with utilitarian daylilies and hardy herbs - plus a few packets of moonflower seeds and some portulacas. Teetotalers, all. The past few years of droughty Bay Country summers have revived my respect for the ancient well in my yard. But lately, I've begun to hear a ghostly voice that gently suggests I simply dump the flowers and plant instead some okra and greens and perhaps acquire a couple of hens - and that banty rooster I have always wanted
Scharmen, of Leason Cove, won first place in last year's Maryland, Delaware, D.C. Press Association editorial awards contest for a column she wrote for this space.
| Issue 18 |
Volume VII Number 18
May 6-12, 1999
New Bay Times
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