I would get stuck with a name like Pink Obedient. It figures. My mom, Miss Manners comes from a newer, more orderly variety and she and her friends keep to themselves in well-behaved clusters. She loves it, all of them huddled together. I feel claustrophobic. I hate it here. The neat corner of each white pine panel, hand sawed by the Lady in Residence as I have come to call her. She lovingly jigsawed alternating notch and grooves in each board so she wouldn’t have to use unsightly nails. I don’t care about nails.
She does make her own compost. This I care about. I can feel nitrogen and phosphorus making magic on my lateral roots. It makes me feel flush and firm with possibilities. My pink petals, thick around the oval edges are sturdy and resilient. I am hardy, healthy, I’ll giver her that, she makes good soil. I feel as if I could lift a root through the black dirt, plant it firmly, lean slightly then push down to pull up another root. I’ve seen enough people walk by from my perch in the middle of the parking strip to see how it’s done. They make it seem effortless, this one broad foot in front of the other business. I’d like to see them try it buried mid-thigh in freshly composted and de-pebbled dirt. Sometimes they stop, smile, and bring their faces close to me, enormous and looming they inhale and tell me how pretty I am.
Sundays, the Lady in Residence walks down her front porch steps, feet encased in thick blue gardening socks and matching Crocs. She leans towards me, pinches my petals, pats the soil around my stem, smiles and says, You look like you could use a drink. She spends the afternoon pruning and picking while NPR’s Lynne Rossetto Kasper blares from her open living room window.
On warmer days, new neighbors stop at the corner to chat. The twenty-something couple with matching pegged skinny jeans, close cropped hair, and square glasses. The recently divorced mother of two downsized from a three bedroom suburban home to one of the three-story glass and steel condos sprouting up like Scotch Bloom. Her small square patch of gravel and ornamental grass makes her miss her garden and brings her outside to talk to our Lady in Residence. They stand over fattening Green Zebras tomatoes, Rainbow Chard, snap-pea vine sprouts, dill, Butter Lettuce, bright Daffodils, Stargazer Lilies, and of course clusters of Miss Manners and Pink Obedients, talking about compost and divorce attorney fees. There is Marty and Marlene, stay-at-home moms with ponytails and power walking tennis shoes. They laugh as they swap horror stories of canning thirty jars of farmer’s market strawberries or tying to find a bicycle powered honey extractor.
There I am, right in the middle of them, swaying in the slight breeze. Occasionally a hummingbird swoops by delighting the women. They stop talking, grab one another’s arm and watch silently as the hummingbird gorges on the organic cane sugar and distilled water glistening in the red glass feeder shaped like a giant sunflower.
They gossip and trade war stories of making home made baby food and fresh Yakasobi noodles. Sighing, they talk about painting over graffiti and telling teenagers in freshly washed and waxed cars to slow down! They commiserate about the unsightliness of the adjacent vacant lot with the bulldozed remains of Mrs. Bella’s home. Mrs. Bella, a grandmother who unsuccessfully fought off developers in pressed blue suits and sunglasses, who refused to take no for an answer as long as she could, had moved father south. The women, excited about their newly formed neighborhood watch group discussed when they should schedule a clean up and planting day to pretty up the vacant lot.
Pretty. I’m sick of pretty. I watched the adjacent lot they lamented. I saw blackberry vines climb in, around, over piles of rocks and framing wood left after the bulldozing. I admired their slow moving deftness and refusal to stay in place. They, like Mrs. Bella, would not give in without a fight. I envied the way a discarded Diana Althaeas shrub took root then lengthened itself left and right across the northwest corner of the lot and how a seemingly dead Fuchsia Ganii was coming back to life, its branches arching neatly next to a deflated bicycle tire framing bunches of dandelions. Annual Bluegrass spread in cracks in the cement while clusters of daffodils burst open with possibility. I wanted to be in that lot, not stuck here, neatly planted in tight rows. I was sick of being picked, patted, weeded, watered, aerated, smiled at and told I was pretty.
As the newly formed neighborhood watch members ended conversations about calls to the city for new street lamps, how to pickle asparagus and whether or not it hurt property values to have a food bank in the neighborhood, peeled off to unload groceries, I savored the silence and blue sky.
I remember Mrs. Bella’s house, leveled a month after the Lady in Residence moved in. I remember Mrs. Bella talking to the men in pressed suits, shaking her head no. I remember groups of young people going in and out of her house with stacks of flyers full of numbers and quotes about how people who grew up in this neighborhood could no longer afford to live here. I watched the day the bulldozers came, dust swirling in the morning breeze and then settling inside each and every one of my cones. Within days of bulldozing sprouts of Bluegrass began to sneak itself in between mounds of gravel and blackberry vines eased into crevices, slowing taking over. At night, under the stars, you can hear the rustle of plants as cats hunt mice and avoid families of scavenging raccoons.
It felt inevitable that a square stack of glass and steel would replace Mrs. Bella’s house and the empty lot. I wanted to yank myself up by my roots, march over to the blackberry vines and organize a takeover. I wanted an uprising of Diana Althaeas, Fuchsia Ganii, Annual Bluegrass and feral cats. I love how we learn to grow sideways, inside minuscule obscured spaces and pop out of every unweeded crack and crevice. I did not want to live up to my name, Pink Obedient or my mother’s Miss Manners. After Sunday’s patting and pruning, I focused all my energy into shooting roots in every direction, imagining them spilling over the pine board, edging along the sidewalk, spreading across the street and up the Lady in Residence’s freshly painted porch steps. I imagined steel and concrete buried inside lush forests of pea vines, raspberry stalks, and towering grass grown wild. I dreamt of rioting rose bushes busting through gates and pushing down wood fences. These dreams keep me alive and hopeful just as the compost keeps me strong and resilient.