Summer is coming. When I was little, summer meant freedom, staying up late and sleeping in, swimming lessons, long bike rides in the evenings, and weeding. Always weeding.
The garden took most of the work, but the flowerbeds - by the gate, the side of the house, and the backyard - had equal weight. With big weed patches, my mother often got irritated and told me to just use a hoe or shovel. But unless the ground was soft, my weight didn't drive the shovel down far, and I always used the hoe with caution, afraid of severing worms in their dark earth beds. For years I half-convinced myself that no corn actually grew in the garden, since both the plants and the weeds looked exactly the same to me. I pulled with my fingers crossed that I wouldn't get in trouble for yanking up corn. I always preferred the flower beds to the garden.
My favorite place to weed was the flowerbed against the side of my abuelita's house, in the backyard. The road was hidden by the house, blocking out the sounds of everything but the breeze rubbing the forsythia bush against the fence, the magpies' wings rustling where they lined the rain gutters, and the occasional distant tapping of the woodpecker that my mother hated and my brother kept trying to kill.
I hated the dry, hard dirt, where the plants broke off at the surface and left the roots still firmly entrenched. Sometimes I scrabbled at the dirt with my fingers, trying to dig enough to catch the root, and others I just left it, knowing next week it would be tall again. But after a rainfall, or when the hose had been left running at the top of the hill, the soil breathed in the water and its muscles relaxed and loosened. Only a slight tug at the base of the weed was needed to break it free from the soil, some dirt still clinging to the stringy roots. The sun beat down on my hair piled on top of my head, the numerous bobby pins holding it in place, and my exposed neck. When I finished, my hair would be hot and dry to the touch, like a dryer sheet. I always worked barefoot, my toes curled in dirt and stained from the grass, and I never wore gloves, letting my fingers sink into the earth to pry the weeds loose. Every crease in my fingers filled with dirt, and my fingernails looked brown-tipped. Even for thistles, I would not wear gloves. I coated my hands with wet dirt, washing them in a cool layer of brown, and pulled the stinging stalks with as few fingers as possible. A few stinging nettles always ended up in my fingers, and I'd pull my fingers back just before I instinctively stuck them in my mouth to ease the pain. Instead I'd rub the ache away in the soothing dirt and then continue weeding.
I remember my knees and hands pressing into the cool, damp soil, which gave way and made a hollow for me; the hot dry air on my skin, drying the mud into a layer that cracked and crumbled when I stood and stretched to ease the ache in the small of my back and the joints of my knees; the blended scent of snapdragons and fresh cut grass and the water from the hose and the dirt under my nails. And sometimes I miss it.