Life’s Weeds

There are people who like to garden—me. And there are people who are master gardeners. My neighbor, Miss Debbie, is a master gardener or maybe a Garden Grande Dame. I call her Miss Debbie, because she’s my retired eye doctor’s wife, and I call him Dr. Miller. She’s the first lady of my eyeballs so she needs a title too, plus Miss Debbie has a very first lady, “don’t take no shit,” feel about her. She was her husband’s front desk gatekeeper at his optometry practice and very good at her job. If Miss Debbie had been in charge of the door at our nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021, we’d have never known anyone visited that day, and Miss Debbie would have been wearing someone’s coonskin cap at the dinner table that evening. 

Her keen landscaping vision is apparent. By looking at her front yard, you can see her eye for balance. She has different heights and textures of plants and flowers, areas of her yard are of varying elevations, some areas mounding, some lower. Everything flows into the next with the perfect juxtaposition. She has big rocks strategically placed throughout, and her flowers cling to them and swoon over them like damsels on a fainting couch. Dammit, I never know where to put the rocks. 

She mixes shrubbery with flowers, perennials with annuals, spiky growing things with low roundeth growing things, and it all works so beautifully. Roundeth is my word, don’t look it up. 

I have a perennial bed at the end of my driveway that I sweat hours in every year, and no matter what I do it still mimics a badly laid out charcuterie board or maybe a pizza with all the supreme toppings. Stuff grows everywhere, it grows into areas that it wasn’t supposed to. Plants grow taller than they were planned, throwing shade on my sun-lovers causing them to reach for life and get leggy. Everything in my perennial bed is touch and go, it’s like the ICU out there. In the hot summer, it’s more like hospice care. I’m just trying to give them dignity until they meet their maker in August or miraculously go to seed where I don’t want them to. I have learned perennials like to move themselves. If they reseed themselves, you might as well let them stay where nature puts them because when you try to move them they will drama queen themselves right into emergency hospice and the compost pile. 

The weeds are a constant battle. Years ago when designing the perennial bed I laid down landscaping cloth on top of the ground as weed control. The weeds laughed at it. I now have weeds that grow on top of the landscaping cloth as a big f-you, and I pluck them out by hand as a little f-you back. We do this all summer, the weeds and I. My very sore thigh muscles will tell you. 

But when I walk past Miss Debbie’s yard, there are no weeds. I don’t know why, but I’m guessing they’re a little scared of her.

And I look for them. I look for any evidence of imperfection in that Mrs. Optometrist garden utopia. I am always comparing her flowers, her design, the amount of sun she gets where, to what I’m dealing with over in my messy pizza garden. 

I tell Miss Debbie frequently that I covet her garden. She’ll stop sometimes as she leaves the neighborhood, roll down her window and say hello. I always make her sorry she did so because I get into one of my diatribes about my flower woes and she will finally jump in and say “gotta go!” and I know I did it again. I can’t help myself, I feel like she’s such a vast source of knowledge and artistic mystery that I want to gulp it all down like I do chips and queso on a Friday night. I want her tips, her expertise, her secrets to a beautiful organized, without looking too organized, luscious garden yet I run her off every time like I spooked a deer. People who run other people off, raise your hand here. 

Recently I walked past Miss Debbie’s house to drop something off to another neighbor, and as I strolled back to my house I slowed down. I was taking in her spiky liriope grass, placed perfectly next to her sculpted Japanese boxwood, so sculpted it looks as if it’s wearing a parochial school uniform, starched and pressed. 

She also has a cool mailbox. An ordinary Home Depot mailbox that leans just enough to the right to make you ask yourself if it’s leaning to the right like mine (spoiler alert, it is) would not be acceptable for the Garden Debbie Spectacular. Oh no, she has a cool iron mailbox on a pedestal that reminds me of something you’d see in a bank on Gunsmoke. It looks like you’d need a doorman with a ring of keys to open it for you. My crooked mailbox usually has ants in it. 

I was just barely shuffling past Miss Debbie’s, at a snail’s pace, soaking up all the self-loathing I could for my gardening inadequacies when I saw it… 

A weed. 

There. Peeking out from the shade of that Japanese Boxwood’s pleated skirt was a little green sprout of tremendous insult. It was not even sorry for its presence, like a drunk uncle staggering into the wedding and then loudly protesting to the bride how beautiful she looked during a moment of silence at the altar. How dare him. 

I was in shock at the audacity of this weed. I looked around to see if there was anyone to share in my disbelief. I stood and stared at it for a second and then quickly bent down and snatched it out of the crack between the mulch and the curb much like my future daughter-in-law did when one of my hairs unveiled itself in my cherry cobbler just as I dished up the first serving. She grabbed it as if it never existed, no one saw it, and it was never mentioned again. I knew my future DIL was a keeper long before that hair-in-the-cherry-cobbler incident, but it was just more evidence that she was my people. I’d be worried that my family will never eat my cherry cobbler again after reading this, but they are not one of my four readers. Bully for them. 

I silently plucked out that arrogant weed and finished walking home with the little dead intruder scrunched in the palm of my hand. On arrival I appropriately disposed of the body as any murderer should. I would have thrown it into my garden to scare my weeds, but I didn’t want the other weeds learning from such a skilled invader plus I figured with my luck it would resurrect itself seeing as my garden is a disco ball nightclub for weeds. 

Then I laughed at how offended I was that that weed had the nerve to invade Miss Debbie’s garden and how quick and comfortable I was to grab it. It felt slightly heroic, oddly. Not like I’d stopped a runaway baby carriage heroism, but the I told someone they had spinach in their teeth kind. 

And then I got to thinking how sometimes, we need someone to pluck the proverbial weeds out of our life’s garden too. We all have weeds creeping in from all directions. Beloved brothers get horrible cancer, our friends go through heartbreaking divorces, they lose jobs unfairly or are forced to move to new cities to stay employed, the people we love fall in love with other people sometimes, friends die leaving tremendously grief stricken spouses behind, wouldn’t it be nice if we could pluck those issues out of their lives like weeds that had to go. We’re walking along…Oh, look at that! you need back surgery? Nope. Pluck! And then, as anyone who has ever fed a baby says, “All gone!”

I frequent a little family-owned plant nursery close to my house. They always have really rare and unusual plants. It’s hot as a terrarium in hell, smells like wet dirt, and you actually walk in wet dirt, but I love it. I don’t spend much money there because my discomfort usually wins out before my weakness for buying plants that I don’t need does, and I run with my two items to my air-conditioned car. 

The last time I was there, I left my garden mid-planting and went to grab another couple of plants, toppings, so I could make my super supreme pizza yard look even more pizza-y. I showed up in my gardening shorts that have a hole in the back, right at the top of my booty crack. 

Now to a HOA swim and tennis neighborhood, crooked Home Depot mailbox gal like me, they are an eclectic group of knowledgeable, quinoa-bowl-eating, dirty finger-nailed, very gentle souls who run this nursery. I love their dreadlocks and Scooby-Doo vibe. They’re the kind who carry the spider out of the house on a flip flop made out of recycled baby diapers so the spider can flourish and find himself. They’re going to wear old dirty Birkenstocks to your daughter’s wedding, and look adorable doing it. There’s just nothing to not love about them. 

So as I carried my one item to my car, one of the young female employees followed behind me in silence with my other item. I could feel it. I knew she was staring at the hole in my shorts. 

We load up my items and as I’m closing the back of my car she draws her hands up to her chin, prayerfully and says, “I’m going to tell you something, and please don’t think I’m weird and I hope this doesn’t offend you, but if it were me I’d want someone to tell me.” 

I chuckled. I knew what was coming. 

She bravely delivered the blow. “You have a hole in your shorts.” 

That kind of heroism, again. 

And just for the record, this is about the time Miss Debbie would wave and drive off in my story…

But how many times a day do we get the chance to pick the weed out of someone else’s garden, or tell them they have a hole in their shorts? How many opportunities do we get to show that little momentary tittle of love, caring or kindness. 

Do we pass them up? Do we even see them? 

Sadly, we can’t always pluck the really bad weeds out of each other’s lives. The cancer, the grief, the divorce and dandelion-sized misfortune is delivered on sterling silver trays and only God can flip those trays over onto the floor. 

And maybe since we can’t control these big weeds, God gives us the little ones as His way of letting us help Him. Not that He needs our help, but maybe He gives us the little easy weeds thinking, “Surely they can’t screw this up,” after all, His day is pretty full. 

Anne Lamott writes, “Life is such a mystery that you have to wonder if God drinks a little.” 

And who would blame Him? This world is a tough day at the office. 

So I wonder if we’re given these little weeds along the way, even in the most seemingly perfect gardens, as tiny opportunities to help take care of someone, to support, as an “I got you.” And since God knows we are not perfect or unselfish He offers us a little feeling of heroism to go with it as a reward.

Or maybe we’re given them once in a while because God’s on the couch after a long night of worldly despair and He just needs us to lovingly brush the hair out of each other’s eyes occasionally as He sleeps it off. 

I don’t know, but I can tell you with utmost certainty 187 new weeds have emerged in my garden in the length of time it took you to read this so if any of you are walking by… 

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