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.


iBo said...

Dang Crystal. You're so talented it's not even funny.

Emily Goodsell said...

Crystal, I love this. This mirrors my childhood summers, too, only I don't think I could write it this fluently.

Every morning my siblings and I woke up early and spent long hours in the sugar beet fields and our yard hoeing weeds. Somehow, when I was really little, I strategically got sick while in the beet field every morning. That way, my older brother and sister would annoyed of my complaining and send me to the four wheeler where we had our Twinkie stash. There, I sat and ate the sweet goodness. It was a good idea, but it didn't last forever.

Now I live in an apartment without any grass or weeds to call my own, and I wish I had some weeds to pull or some grass to mow.

Crystal said...

Wow, Emily, you had a nice secret stash. Whenever my mom locked us out of the house to mop the floor, we were reduced to eating dog food.
Yeah, I don't really want to deal with taking care of a lawn or garden, and I always kill plants, but I miss having them around.

Julie M said...

I loved your images Crystal. Especially of you not wearing shoes or gloves. Very nice. I hope you get to garden a little before you set off on your adventure.

Sky said...

Jami, Puleeeese come to my house and pull some weeds. Beautiful writing, Crystal, as always. You are able to capture with exact words stuff waaaay down the abstraction ladder, which is an ability to see clearly.

Katie said...

I loved the detail in this too; it took me back to when I'd pull weeds in our flower patch. I think you're brave for pulling up the stinging stalks without gloves. Maybe for a service project you'll get to pull weeds where you're serving.

iBo said...

The one day on my mission where I got to do service that was NOT teaching an ESL English class was absolutely glorious. One of the less-active members had a yard completely overrun with weeds and tall grass, and we spent the better part of the day cleaning up the yard. Oh it was nice, so nice.