“Hey! Old Lady,” came a quiet little voice from somewhere behind me. I straightened up and looked around expecting to see an old lady nearby. Instead, I spied a little boy on a tricycle parked in the caul-de-sac on the other side of my chain-link fence. He pointed
to a vine climbing up our neighbor’s fence. “That’s poison ivy,”
he declared. “My dad is really bad allergic to it.”
Beyond the boy were two older children standing in the driveway. They were watching from a safe distance.
“No,” I said. “It’s not poison ivy. It won’t hurt you. That’s a vine called Virginia Creeper. If you get close to it, you’ll see that it has five lobes on its leaves. Poison ivy only has three.”
He seemed satisfied with my explanation and wheeled his ride back up the street to where the older kids were waiting. I heard him announce knowingly that it wasn’t poison ivy.
His family had bought the house just north of us a few months earlier. As the summer progressed, the little boy would from time to time, spot me in my garden near the fence. I’d always be working away and thinking my thoughts when a little voice would quietly arrive behind me. I would stop what I was doing and talk with him awhile. When the weather got cold we were both driven indoors.
After months of cold and snow, the weather got warm enough and the soil dry enough that I ventured out into my garden again.
With my gauging tool I was diligently ripping dandelions out of my flower beds when a quiet little voice arrived behind me.
Today’s conversation began with another warning. “You need to look out for those bees. I just saw one fly over here.”
“I’ve been gardening out here for a long time,” I assured him, “and I have never had a bee sting me. If you leave them alone, most of the time they will leave you alone too.”
“A bee stung my friend,” he said. “Out here in the backyard. He got mad and broke my little swimming pool.”
“Well, he should not have done that!” I said. “It wasn’t your fault, and the bee was just trying to protect himself.”
From there the conversation moved to dandelions. He proudly pointed out the large mass of yellow blooms scattered throughout his backyard. We talked about butterflies and nectar and wasps and bees. He said he’d like to come over and see my flowers sometime. I told him that would be nice, but he would need to ask his mother first “so she knows I’m not kidnapping you.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I know you told me last fall, but I’ve forgotten. Tell me your name again.”
“Darrell!” He clearly was disappointed that I hadn’t remembered.
“And you’re in first grade, right?”
“No! I’m in kindergarten. I’m only five years old.”
“I’m sorry, Darrell,” I apologized. “I should have remembered that. I will not forget again.”
Forgiveness came quickly and Darrell soon had an idea.
“Want to come see the flowers in my front yard?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. “I’d love to.”
We met in his front yard. Darrell wandered about pointing out the dandelions and wild violets that were scattered in the lawn. He picked up a sweetgum ball and was twirling it around when his father came outside.
“He wanted to show me the flowers in his front yard,” I said.
We chatted briefly, then Darrell’s father agreed that it would be okay for Darrell to go see the flowers in my yard. I pointed out the hostas with the furled leaves just poking out of the ground, the lavendar blooms of azalea, and the brownish leaves of heuchera. But Darrell didn’t seem that interested in my garden plants. He mostly found the dandelions that had grown among them.
“There’s a dandelion,” he pointed out.
“Yes,” I said, ” They like to get in my flowerbeds. They are pretty but I don’t like them there. It won’t bother you if I dig them out, will it?”
He shook his head to show he did not mind. “There will always be plenty of dandelions,” I said. ” You don’t have to worry about running out.”
Then I showed him my hyacinths and invited him to get closer so he could enjoy their smell. “Just get down close, like this,” I said. “It’s okay. I’ve already checked and there are no bees in there.”
“Some flowers are pretty,” said Darrell. “And some of them smell bad.”
“That’s right,” I said. I imagined him having put his nose into a marigold or perhaps some bee balm.
As our stroll continued I named the plants and told a little about them. Darrell nodded politely as if listening, but his response was always to just point out another dandelion.
“These are daffodils and irises,” I said.
“Sometimes pretty flowers smell bad,” he said.
We finished the walk and I returned Darrell to his front yard. I tried to walk away, but each time he would say something. I would have to walk back toward him to hear what he had to say. It took three or four attempts but I finally made my way back to my own yard.
“Go back and tell your dad you’re home,” I said as I walked away. ” I have to finish digging dandelions before that storm gets here.”
“Don’t forget my name next time!” he said as I walked away.
“I promise, Darrell,” I said.
I went back to my gardening, feeling like I’d been of some use to someone today. I knew Darrell wasn’t so much interested in my plants as he was just having someone show him some attention. He was the youngest in the family and he often played alone outside. His parents appeared to have lots of adult company and his olders siblings seemed often to come and go in cars with other teenage friends.
About an hour after our visit I saw Darrell’s dad in his front yard. His earlier visitors had left. He was busy pulling out the dead evergreens that the previous owner had planted just before he sold the house. The plants had died soon after Darrell’s family moved in. The row of ugly reddish-brown remains appeared to have gone unnoticed for all the months they’d lived there.
It didn’t take much to remove them. One yank upward and the bush came up easily from the soil. I wondered if anyone would bother planting some flowers in their place. Something pretty that smells good. Hopefully, not marigolds.
- Leaves of 3 Let Them Be: Poison Ivy Advice from Dr. Coffield (healthcarebloglaw.blogspot.com)
- The Scent of a Dandelion (millenniallemons.com)
- My Garden 2011, photos by Dandelion Salad (dandelionsalad.wordpress.com)