My goal every year is to have the grass manicured, the flowers in the yard beds and pots on the deck blooming, the little garden in and growing, and the weeds OUT by Memorial Day so I can sit outside and admire it all. It hasn’t happened in the last ten or twelve years, but this year it will be a reality. And it’s going to happen even though I hurt myself and am on full-time Ibuprofen. (I tripped over a puppy gate. I lifted my foot, but the Chaco didn’t lift or clear, and caught the top bar and I went splattering down the hall, slung my glass of water, which broke and cut me, and possibly broke something inside the very top of my leg.)
Yesterday, to finish off my garden, I planted five heirloom tomato plants a neighbor gave me. She was raised on a farm in McNairy County of West Tennessee, lived in Ohio for her professional career, and moved back to Tennessee to be near her grandchildren. She knows how to harvest seeds and plant them the next year. I want to learn. I told her this will be very helpful when the coming financial crisis happens or when our country declares financial martial law, as Ron Paul speaks of with surety. I thought of buying the book he promotes on this subject, but it costs $75, and I’m not paying that much for any book unless it’s about the Mississippi Delta. (I bought David Cohn’s book for $120.)
I’m writing about the Mississippi Delta — a little fictional town near Cleveland, on the river, with five women who are main characters. It will explore race, religion, family, and land — all good Southern topics for novels. I am taking my time on this book. Trying to say what I want to say and get it right.
And now, of all things, Cleveland, my hometown, and Cleveland High School, my alma mater, are in the news. The Cleveland school district has been given a federal court order to desegregate. People all over the country are making disparaging remarks because they are picturing an all-white school. No. CHS began integration in 1965. My class of ’67 might have been the last all-white graduating class. The one student who joined my class during our junior year in 1965-66 did not come back the following year to graduate. But others came, and the ratio grew over the years to almost equal in that one particular school. Here are the cheerleaders for the mighty CHS Wildcats this year! Yay, Black and Gold — conquer and prevail! Cleveland High, all hail!
I’m not sure what the world is coming to, or if in future months we will falter into financial martial law or if we will make a return to the 1960s, or just how much the federal government is going to stick its neck into our lives, but all I want to do is sit in my own back yard and look at all the handiwork and grow muscadines, blackberries, and heirloom tomatoes.
I scrubbed them with lime basil soap and rubbed in lotion of coconut milk and orchid extract again and again. Still, my hands feel like sandpaper. It’s okay, though.
It’s what happens when you put your hands in the dirt for the first time as the season of planting and growing draws nigh.
When I bought this house three years ago, I told myself I wasn’t going to plant anything. Except grass. There was nothing in the back yard but a blanket of dirt with seeds and straw over it. I couldn’t manage all the flower beds at my old house, and I didn’t want to find myself in that shape in this place. But no. I couldn’t leave it alone.
I hauled in a hundred bags of topsoil and mulch and spread it all with my bare hands. I hauled in stones for delineating the beds and pathways — over four hundred of them. I planted eight trees, twenty-eight bushes, and more perennial flowers and herbs than I can count. So now, I have to keep the weeds out and the mulch fresh.
Yesterday, I started the job. I cleaned out one bed.
There’s just something about being outdoors in expectant late winter when one day after weeks of cold and wind and even snow and ugly ground, the sun shines and sends down warmth. My soul feels a need to be a part of it, and so I walk my little plot of land and look at buds on tree limbs, hopeful, and blueberries wanting to break forth, and irises rising up anew. It all sends a push of joy up from my chest.
There’s nothing more satisfying than surrounding myself with life and growth and fun and memories of places I’ve been and people I love.
And I know … I will find a way and a place to plant something new in that full yard once spring comes to stay.
It’s Easter Sunday, and I hike once again to that old cemetery—the one that’s in my neighborhood. I want to see if the lilies-of-the valley are blooming yet. They weren’t last Sunday.
In Wades Grove where Lequire Lane abruptly ends just past its intersection with Dubose Court, there’s a field full of dandelions and clover off to the right. Across the slope is a wide path that goes up a hill between saplings and tall trees just barely getting their leaves. I trudge up the steep incline, going higher than the houses on Dubose. A blue heron flies over.
She’s a solitary bird, looking for peace within. The great blue heron brings the message that I should listen to the inner callings of my heart, follow my own unique path in life, and co-create my own circumstances. And then rise and soar when I choose.
At the top of the hill is the cemetery surrounded by an old rock wall. A black iron gate is the way in. The Wades and Duboses who used to walk this land now reside here under it, yet above all of us who have houses down in the real world in a subdivision named for their family.
The ground is covered with periwinkle, little blue flowers everywhere. Snowdrops are just beginning to bloom in tiny, white, bell-like flowers. Daffodils stretch in a long line, tossing their yellow heads in the wind. I wonder if someone from an olden age planted them here. It used to be this way long ago when all old homeplaces had daffodils around their yards, and little children laughed and played inside them and trees towered over them, and when the folks died off and their house rotted into oblivion, the daffodils remained, returning every year and lining up in a square to announce the season of rebirth and new life.
Now old trees rise up inside that gray stone fence—trees that speak of long life. Three giant walnuts, maybe a century old. An ancient spruce and two dogwoods in bloom. In one corner, a magnolia stands the tallest with its thick gnarled limbs stretching out over the people here. Someone cut down another magnolia in front of the old one, and five new trunks have grown up from it. No leaves, but the tree has long slender velvet tips at the ends of each branch ready to bloom out in fragrant satin flower.
The gravestones are all lined up, like school children getting into formation to go outside for recess. Patty Ann, Elizabeth, George, Harriet, Henry, Mary Lou, Lucy, Carolyn—Wade people, adults and children, who lived and died in the 1800s and early 1900s, a century ago. The last time someone was buried here was in 1936.
I walk by Lucy Wade and her husband William Dubose. Lucy died at thirty three, leaving an eleven-year-old daughter, Carolyn. Carolyn, born in Spring Hill in 1883 and died in Atlanta in 1912, was “A Perfect Woman,” according to her tombstone. She was only twenty-nine and didn’t have a chance to become colored by life. Henry Pointer Wade, 1828-1907, was “A Good Man.” That’s what my Charlie wanted people to remember about him.
I sit on the bottom concrete ledge of Burke Bond’s tall spire. Burke died in 1889, and according to his inscription, he knew that his Redeemer liveth.
“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” Job 19:25-26 NIV
The sun filters in through new spring leaves. I watch the shadows fall—the old walnut and spruce lay across the aging, blackening tombstones inscribed with names and spans of years people walked and worked and played here.
I walk over to the eastern wall of rock and look out over all the newly built houses in Wades Grove. Earth in the distance has been cleared of old trees—cherry, cedar, crab apple, sweet gum, sycamore—for even more homes. And farther out beyond the neighborhood’s reaches is the school our children are zoned for.
Children here inside the stone fence, children over there in the brick building. People up here under obelisks, people down there on grazing land mowing grass. Land that moves forward.
I think of my own family land down in Mississippi. Five generations have owned that red-clay dirt. I’m up now, and when my time comes, I will pass it on to my children. I imagine the Wade children played on this land like I played on ours during summer visits to the grandparents when I was a little girl. I wonder if the Wade children went with their grandpa late afternoons to bring the cows in. I imagine the children played in Aenon Creek—maybe they even dammed it up and built a pond like my cousins and I did on our stream. I wonder if the Wade children ever tried to dig up a grave with a tin can here, like my cousins and I did in the family cemetery on our land. I wonder if their grandma took them to the cemetery and showed them the stones and told them the old, old stories of the ones passed.
There is peace here in the sleep of the old. And quiet, except for a lawn mower on the court below. The lilies aren’t blooming. Yet.
Sometimes this is my church. I come here Sunday mornings, sit, meditate, think, write, silently sing a song. “When I walked through the door I sensed God’s presence . . . And I know that there are angels all around . . . I am standing in His presence on Holy Ground.”
From up here high on the hill, I can see how it was, how it is, and how it will be.
There’s something about standing here on holy ground between heaven and earth and seeing who used to be here and who is here now, and there’s a sense of comfort that life’s long lines go on.
This is why I’ve got rotator cuff issues and impingement and bursitis and eight weeks of physical therapy.
From Resting Place: A Memoir of Grief and Healing:
“July 29, 2012
The back yard was stone-solid sienna clay when I bought this house in December, seven months ago. Fescue seeds had been scattered on top of it and covered with straw. Spring rains wet the clay and pounded the straw into it to mesh as part of the earth’s hardscape, and now the summer sun has baked it. Pottery, that’s what it is.”
In one year, I made this out of that:
I swear I’m going to stick to my previous schedule of early a.m. writing — sitting at my computer beside an upstairs double window, where I have a tunneled, limited view. Where it’s safe. And I don’t know what’s going on around me. No more six o’clock walks! It’s dangerous out there!
The Crossing is under construction. I was the fourth one to live on my street. Three other neighbors moved in weeks after I did. Now, there are three more houses, one sold but not occupied yet, two not sold. There are houses going up all over the neighborhood, and there are some empty lots — with tall weeds, Johnson grass that loves this drought and shoots up higher and higher after a rain — and things lurk in those high weeds! (We all have to keep our yards looking nice — not sure why the builder doesn’t mow the five-foot weeds!)
Walking this morning, I saw turkeys. Just across and down the street. I’ve seen them feeding across the intersecting street at the end of mine, in the cleared fields that butt up to a creek and woods. Dozens of them. But this morning they were in the middle of the subdivision. They walk through empty lots with high weeds, cross streets, and go into yards. Nicely groomed yards, with low grass, cut to perfection, flowers, shrubs, all clean and well taken care of. Wild animals! There were about six that went into my neighbor-from-Missouri’s yard. Three more paraded through the high Johnson grass in the lot next to hers and … disappeared.
I’ve seen feral cats in our neighborhood. They live in the sewers under the street and then feed off what the construction crews throw out. McDonald’s leftovers, cantaloupe rinds, sweet sugary remains in Coke bottles, tortillas (yes, you heard me!), chips, and all sorts of menus remain on the ground for weeks, or until the house is finished. Yep, nobody’s mama of all the men who work for this builder taught them to throw their trash in a garbage bag and dispose of it properly.
My friend down the street tells me that deer walk up our street at night. “It’s about one or two in the morning. And they have these big horns.” Coyotes, too. I hear them when a fire truck sounds its siren. Looks like they could catch the feral cats. Crows, they’re here, too. They fly in every morning to see what the construction crews have left them for breakfast.
The worst of it, though — skunks. My next door neighbors say they see skunks at dusk when they walk their bulldog, Spartacus. I’ve smelled skunks in the night. My neighbor, Jim, told me a skunk lived in a lumber pile in my backyard during the time my house was constructed.
As I rounded the circle on my morning walk, I saw movement in the Johnson grass in an empty field to my right. Black and white movement. A skunk. Hell. Yes. A skunk. Twenty feet from me. Damn. What do I do? Keep walking. No, run. I turn around and run backward as it is crossing the street. It is standing up watching me. Will it chase me? I run a bit further.
I stop and watch. The skunk runs between an apparently occupied house (I’ve never seen anyone there) and a house under construction. It runs all the way around the new house and then into the crawl space. Those construction crews have probably been throwing food under there. Come Monday morning, those men are gonna wish their mamas had taught them how to throw away their garbage!
Then, next door! Turkeys. Nine of them, that I could see. Some might have been hiding out in the tall weeds on the adjoining construction site. There were young ones! Those birds have been having sex in the Johnson grass! Male turkeys mate with as many hens as they can. And there are many out there! They’ve got the best of all worlds here. Privacy in the weeds for making love. A creek only feet away. Woods as shelter to sleep in. Rubbish, or um, dinner, provided by the building team on a daily basis. Turkeys also eat insects, amphibians, reptiles like lizards and snakes, seeds, nuts, berries, roots, and even from backyard bird feeders! Thank God, I have a fence! Well, but I hear they can climb a bit, or fly a bit. Oh my! Turkey populations can reach large numbers because of their ability to eat different types of food — from a Big Mac to frog legs to a juniper seed. What more could a wild animal want?
Me, from now on, I’m staying home, inside, and working on that book!
The backyard is coming along nicely. I’m not finished yet. But I have six trees, a vegetable garden, an herb/perennial garden, and a few other planted and decorated spots.
And this rain should help the grass along!
Some special things: part of my Revolutionary 4th great grandfather’s original tombstone from 1799, an old brick from West Kemper Baptist Church, statues of my mother’s, a flat rock from the original land grant of Jacob Boone’s farm in Kentucky, my husband’s arrowhead collection, my mother-in-law’s shells, a pick from my grandfather’s farm, a gull from my Oregon trip, as well as a cobalt blue sea ball, and so on…
Here are pictures of the progress…
I knew we were going to be all right when the dog let me know in the only way she could that she was accepting the move.
I’d brought her to the new house four or five times, let her walk around the front newly sodded yard, up and down the sidewalks, and throughout the house in its progressing stages of completion. For weeks in our Wimbledon house, she watched me put together boxes and strip tape around them and pack them with our stuff. Our stuff disappeared and the stacks of boxes in the house grew. She kept looking at me, fully aware that something big and different was going on. Then when the four men from Franklin Movers arrived, she began to shake violently, and my heart began to crumble.
The last big thing in her life was three and a half years ago, when her “daddy” went to the doctor and never came home. She kept watching the street, waiting for him to come around the curve behind the island. She kept watching the back door, waiting for him to walk in, so she could do that high-pitched barking and run to him, then around the circle of hall, foyer, living room, dining room, great room, kitchen, hall, bedroom, with her butt tucked, and she would jump on the bed, still yipping, and greet him as he removed his phone and billfold and loose change. That was our life together and the house on Wimbledon was all she ever knew and it was what I loved and where I felt at home.
We both went through grief then, deep and severe. And I guess some of that will always be with me, because it’s like Alyce, my neighbor in Cleveland, told my mother after my father died, “You don’t ever get over it. You just learn to live with it.” Even yesterday when the cable man was at the house, I was taking notes on setup audio and video 1 and 2 in my old gray At-A-Glance and happened to flip to the back page where I had scribbled notes at the hospital as a nurse named Betsy reported to me: occlusion…clot…mesenteric artery…opened and removed clots…restricted blood flow…complete dissection of aorta. And my chest tightened and squeezed my heart up into my throat, and yes, the tears came. I wasn’t ready for that life, our life, to be over.
So this move has been all about endings. Up until now, that’s it. Endings. Boxing up, packing up, purging, throwing out, giving away things attached to that person who is no longer with us, keeping some, remembering, letting go. Crying, hurting, cursing, fussing at him for keeping everything that I was having to throw away or pack up and move. Then driving away from it all…
Now in the new home, I think about beginnings. New people, new friends, new town, new stores, new everything. I needed a change. I needed NEW. I needed a somewhat smaller house and yard and mortgage payment. Now, I’ve got everything all new. And I can breathe.
As I unboxed my stuff and built a hill of white packing paper on the kitchen floor, the dog walked over, stepped into the stack, rattled it, circled, and lay down. Then she looked up to me, as if to say, “Okay, I’m in this, too.”
And we are okay.