When I was young, Mamie Lattimer lived across the street from my grandmother in Jackson, Mississippi. Her yard could only be charitably described as a jungle. My grandmother loved it. In the summer, you weren’t sure there was really a house there. Crepe myrtles, hollyhock, lantana (in the one sunny area), nandina, magnolia, and other assorted bushes, shrubs, and bulbs not readily apparent covered every inch of the corner lot. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I really appreciated why it was Dar (my grandmother–short for Darling Darling. Proof your grandkids will call you whatever they damn well please) loved that yard so much. Each day it was a different yard. Something else was blooming. A new bulb was forcing its way up. You would have forgotten she had that beautiful coral-orange colored azalea. Then, come November, proof of a house emerged. But just barely. Evergreens hide a multitude of sins.
Over the last few years, I have come to the realization that I’ve skipped right over my mother and turned into my grandmother. I will alter my route just to see this little grouping of ginko trees when they turn gold. I will purse my lips in the international sign of Southern Woman Disapproval when I find an instance of crepe murder. I will be inconsolable when, yet again, the daffodils around the backyard maple green but don’t bloom. If you were to present me with a bottle of Jungle Gardenia, I would wonder if you were out of your gourd, but I will happily sit outside near the gardenia tree for the short weeks it is in bloom because I believe only a sweet olive bush smells better, and I sadly don’t have one of those.
My husband has found a successful hobby as a weekend gardener. He now plans borders of color for his garden, wonders how we ended up with approximately 83,067 bushels of butternut squash he didn’t plant, and thinks I’m really joking when I talk about the buff orpingtons I want for the yard. He does the work, I do the appreciating. And most of the cooking.
We live in the middle of Memphis in a house built in 1953. It’s not anything magnificent. It’s the step-up model from the 2-n-1 plans of High Point Terrace. Our neighborhood, right on the Greenline and a short walk from the Central Library and Oak Court, is smack in the middle of the loop. But when our houses were built, family in midtown weren’t going to make the trip all the way out to our subdivision. Parkway to a dirt Walnut Grove Road? Please. We have been here almost ten years and our neighbor since 1953. Her parents built the house when they decided to move all the way out to the suburbs and she moved back in after her father died and her mother became ill. She is a most Memphis lady. A spinster teacher who had Elvis in her class at Humes. Not much other than what was absolutely necessary has been done to the house. The yard has been allowed to run wild. Shortly after we moved in, she said to me, “I have a true Tennessee yard. It’s all volunteers. Take whatever you like.”
I wish I had.
Sadly, she has recently become unable to live alone and has moved to a facility. Her house has been sold, and her family has been next door working like Trojans for weeks to get the place cleared out for the new owner. I went over one day to move the trash bin from the curb and the front porch was littered with notepaper. Notes from some sort of school board meeting had fallen out of the bin. Notes from 1962. The shed in the back, her niece told me, was filled with Christmas presents. She had a system of buying, wrapping, and numbering the gifts. Then apparently she’d change her mind or forget about them. The gifts were things like a pocket calendar from 1998. But the yard. Peony bushes big as Buicks. Roses that haven’t been pruned since the ’70s and have climbed over into our yard–thankfully. Five white crepe myrtles taller than the new starter mansion just built behind us that have never been lopped and that have bark like a madrone tree.
Aunt Annie may not have thrown anything away, but the contractor is fixing that. I’m just not sure why he has to start with the crepe myrtles. He likes his poufy and bushy he just told me. I’m hip to that. I get it. Do that in your own yard. Let the trees do what they’ve been doing. I understand he’s going to have to whack away at a lot of crap to get to some good stuff, but he says he wants the yard to look like ours. No. The people who planned our yard were idiots. We’d rather our yard look like hers and Mamie’s. You don’t have to mow trees and bushes. And much like the Miss Alans in A Room With A View, I’d rather a field of wildflowers than bouquets of hothouse roses. Plus they’re scaring away the birds right now with all the racket.
All this to say, I can’t believe I’m getting sentimental over arboreal sartorial choices. I have officially Reached A Certain Age. My Hormones Are Doing Things. I’m becoming unbecomingly sentimental over peonies. I feel the need to bamboo-bomb next door. I’ve just come in from the yard where I happened to catch the head dude. He’s assured me that the crepe myrtles will be beautiful and nothing will be removed that shouldn’t. I don’t believe him. And I should have asked if they were putting up a privacy fence so I wouldn’t have to subject myself to the carnage.