I’m feeling rather pleased with myself today. Got the last of the yews trimmed—no small task, as they’re in front of the house and wind around the side, and they’re also in front of the garage and wind around that. Enlisted the 16-year-old to help; it’s about time someone besides me can handle this chore. I also tackled a monster bed of unidentified shrubbery shielding the windows of the Elvis Room (more on that in a minute). All this, plus cleanup, took several hours. It’s now raining in a near-biblical fashion, and I’m glad it’s all done.
Funny thing about training somebody else to do some of what I do, though: I really don’t want to. It isn’t that I don’t need the help. There’s a chance my part-time job will be full-time by the end of the summer, and I’m agonizing over how to stay on top of all the yard and garden chores without my afternoons free. But I’m loath to give any of it up.
We didn’t have much in the way of gardens when I was a kid, but my grandmothers had the sorts of garden plots you see in magazines, heavy with vegetables for canning and lovely old-fashioned flowers like zinnias and intriguing oddities like gigantic castor bean plants. (Those kept away the moles, or so the old wives’ tale went.) They appreciated the beauty, I’m sure, but they gardened for survival. Both of them started their families during the Depression, and both of them canned the summer’s bounty for as long as their health allowed. If the banks folded again, there’d be no food shortage in their houses.
I can’t grow a vegetable (save lettuce) to save my life in this shady haven, but puttering around with perennials, yanking weeds and trimming trees and shrubs is essential to my mental health. We had a nutty week here—a major health crisis for my sister, and lots of money flowing out for long-planned projects and purchases. The garden was my escape from all that.
I’m just old enough to see retirement on the distant horizon, and maybe that brings an extra sense of urgency to these tasks. Someday I won’t have the stamina to spend four hours of a late-spring day wielding hedge trimmers. My husband is already past that point, but this stuff was never his thing anyway. He appreciates what I do to keep the yard looking presentable, but he doesn’t have the interest (or the knees) to do it himself.
I try not to think about this too much, that someday all this will be only memory. I’m reminded of a Galway Kinnell poem that warns against imaging the end of things and suggests embracing the moment instead. (At least I think that’s the point; feel free to correct me.) It’s a poem about lovers, but it still resonates with me, decades after I first read it:
If one day it happens
you find yourself with someone you love
in a cafe at one end
of the Pont Mirabeau, at the zinc bar
where white wine stands in upward opening glasses,
and if you commit then, as we did, the error
one day all this will only be memory,
as you stand
at this end of the bridge which arcs,
from love, you think, into enduring love,
learn to reach deeper
into the sorrows
to come – to touch
the almost imaginary bones
under the face, to hear under the laughter
the wind crying across the black stones. Kiss
which tells you, here,
here is the world. This mouth. This laughter. These temple bones.
The still undanced cadence of vanishing.
And lest we end on that heavy note, an explanation about the Elvis Room. When we got married, two friends of mine from Indiana presented us with a gift they insisted we open at the wedding reception. It was a singularly hideous bust of Elvis. They saw it at a gas station in Chicago on their way to the nuptials and, well, they just had to have it. It occupies a place of honor on the mantel above the fireplace in the family room. We are always arguing about what that room should be called (“family room” just never caught on, and it isn’t the basement exactly because the windows look out at ground level, and I refuse to call it—as my husband does—”the ground floor”). So I’ve rechristened it the Elvis Room. We knew Elvis was going into this spot when we moved in and realized there was a remote to put a spotlight on the center of the mantel. Where else should The King be if not in the spotlight?