I hope you’re pulling weeds and planting tulips

by | May 12, 2018 5:00 pm

Last Updated: May 9, 2018 at 11:09 am

She left in the spring, her favorite time of year.
The room had floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out on a courtyard blooming with azaleas and dogwoods. Normally she’d have loved the view, because she knew that kind of beauty was no accident. It took lots of time and sweat.
She knew that because gardening was her passion. She loved digging up shrubs, planting tulip bulbs, mulching, raking pine straw, pulling weeds. If she was covered in dirt, it had been a good day.
She also loved pier fishing, crabbing, crocheting, and a fat little dog named Susie. She didn’t have two sides to her, she had 20: A high-church Episcopalian, her favorite snack was pickled pigs’ feet.
She was so small, people underestimated her. Get her mad and you had a buzz saw on your hands. The best thing to do then was step off, turn around and run like the wind.
She was shrewd and intuitive. She brooked no backtalk. She believed all pets should come from the pound. She had great legs and lovely hands. She disliked cooking as much as she loved gardening. She’d throw a ham bone, freezer-burned tomatoes and withered lima beans into a pot of boiling water, wait 10 minutes and then announce, triumphantly, “I made soup!” It was inedible. She did a few dishes well: chicken and pastry, carrot cake and dark fudge grainy with sugar crystals.
She learned to make her own way at a very early age. Married at 19, two babies by 21, living on a military base in Indiana and wondering what the heck happened to the 92-pound girl who won moonlight dance contests at Wrightsville Beach.
She eventually made it back to North Carolina and a new life.
She was a good friend, a fearsome enemy (she could hold a grudge like nobody’s business), and the most resourceful person in any room. When a half-acre lot needed to be cleared for building, she did it herself, with an ax, lighter fluid, a machete and a wheelbarrow. When she wanted wallpaper in the bathroom, she somehow juggled a paste pot, the paper and a ladder and made it happen. Each seam was perfectly straight.
Her love, while not entirely unconditional, was fierce. Her generosity was unfailing. Whatever she had, she shared. Sometimes she vacuumed at 2 a.m.
Dear reader, I’m sure you know by now that “she” is my mother, the woman who shaped my view of the world and everything in it.
Any sense of humor I have came from her. Once, as we mucked out my pony’s stall, she suddenly said, “Never give beer to a horse.” No explanation, no context. I was 12 and didn’t know beer from ginger ale. She was famous for non sequiturs like that. Years later, my friend Anne and I were visiting her and discussed getting our legs waxed. Mom said to me, “Darling, I don’t want to make you self-conscious, but maybe you should wax your mustache first.” Anne fell off the sofa in hysterics.
In the end it was her and me, alone together at the hospice facility. I stared out at the blooming courtyard, remembering how she made sure her children knew 1) the legend of the dogwood tree, and 2) Jesus as our savior.
She died, her hand in mine, two hours after I arrived. Everyone said she waited for me.
Before she left, I lay next to her in bed and whispered what felt like a lifetime’s worth of words in her ear. Maybe she heard me. I hope she did.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I hope you’re pulling weeds and planting tulips.

(Julie R. Smith can be reached at widdleswife@aol.com.)

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