Thursday, July 7, 2011

Where the Grass is Greener

It always looks greener and lusher and higher on the other side of the fence.

Where the Grass is Greener


“This morning I outwitted the robins and picked a bowl of strawberries for breakfast.” I giggled. “I sliced each juicy ruby globe, sprinkled them lightly with sugar, poured on a drizzle of heavy cream and holding each bite on my tongue before swallowing, I savored every morsel.” My listeners groaned with envy.

We six women, whose strongest bond is our shared experience of growing up in Harlem , were nattering about our yards and gardens. Depending on where we lived, we grumbled over the late spring, the over-abundant rain, the prolific weeds or the overwhelming heat.

Montana Karen, our master gardener from Floweree, said her strawberries were still green. Ellie, who divides her time between Turlock and Pleasanton in California , raises flowers but buys her luscious strawberries year-round from local market stands. Denise in Laurier, Washington and Cheryl in Tillamook, Oregon both garden but neither raises strawberries. England Karen gardens in pots on a tiled patio in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire . Unlike our mothers and grandmothers who gardened from duty, we garden from love.

“How I miss having a garden with flower beds and vegetables lined up in rows,” mourned England Karen, formerly from Hardin where she taught school for twenty-five years. “I had lilac bushes from my Dad’s lilacs in Harlem and a round rose garden in the back yard. When I moved to England I didn’t mind selling the house but I hated selling the yard.”

“I feel the same way. I could let my house go, but the dirt is in my soul,” I said. The girls laughed. Ellie replied, “Sondra, you won’t move. You have such a passion for your home. You’re where you are supposed to be.”

“That may be,” I replied. “But it took me a while to love this place. I’ll never forget the day my family moved here from the rolling hills of the Ohio River country in southern Indiana . We left on April Fools Day. I was ten years old, a week away from eleven. The spring flowers were blooming, daffys and tulips and violets and lilacs. The air was balmy.

“On April third we drove into Harlem . Remember how the road used to come straight through town from the east? The highway was the only paved street. The first building I saw was the squat old potato cellar, half buried in the ground, snow piled to the eaves. Rotten snow, blasted with dirt by the ever-present wind lay brown and ugly in every corner. People on the streets in their parkas with hoods, black rubber boots and fleece-lined mitts huddled against the wind.

“Every surface was rimed with ice, piled with snow or wind-scoured down to rock. The Milk River creaked and cracked as it broke up, shooting blocks of ice twenty feet into the air. I was terrified. In school, I thought my classmates loud, rough and bold. When summer finally came I was new blood for the mosquitoes. I hated this place. I thought I had landed in a Siberian gulag. I catalogued every flaw, made continuous comparisons to the wonderland I had left behind. Every night I cried myself to sleep.”

“So what broke the evil spell?” asked Denise.

“Our second summer, the day after school was out, Dad sent my sister, Grandma and me, back to Indiana for a vacation. He thought we’d be gone a couple weeks. However, we didn’t return until the day before school started. It was a long summer for my Dad.

“The funny thing though, it was like getting a new pair of glasses. Our old house was gone, torn down by the young couple who had bought the place, leveled the fields, filled in the sinkhole in the woods and built a brick house up the hill where our barn used to be. The air was so humid, I felt like I was breathing underwater. My grade school crush, Dickie Knear, had erupted in pimples. My girlfriends were glad to see me, but they all had moved on with their lives. The old brick school building in Elizabeth stood empty, abandoned for the new modern consolidated school out in the country. Nothing looked the way I remembered it.

“When I returned, I had grown into a new perspective. I was happy to be back. I was excited to start school the next day. I was eager to be with my friends. Montana was my home and it was beautiful.”

“It’s a good thing we are not the grass is greener on the other side of the fence people,” said Cheryl. “It sounds like we are all blooming where we are planted and planted where we are blooming.”

Several times a day I tour my yard, talk encouragingly to my new rosebush, lament that the late frost ravaged what would have been my first crop of sand cherries, cheer on the currants. I stoop to pluck a tender thistle. I check the potatoes emerging through the heavy mulch. I smile out loud, proud of the work I’ve done, dazzled by the beauty. Home.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

June 30, 2011

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