by Jennifer on June 29, 2009

Our garden was enormous. Not the kind of childhood-enormous that turns out to look small when you grow up. It was a monster of a garden.

And my sister and I spent most of  each summer working in it.

The garden existed as a significant food source for our family and for my step-grandparents, who lived next door. Rows of concord grapes served as bookends, and in between, there were raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes (several varieties), peppers, corn, okra, potatoes, several kinds of squash, green beans, rhubarb, and asparagus. (I feel like I’m leaving something out.)

When something would ripen,  my sister and I would help harvest and get it ready for canning or freezing.

But before that, there was the weeding. The endless weeding.

I’ve heard people say that they settle into a calm state when they weed, that the methodical pulling out of the weeds, moving to a new area, pulling more weeds, is relaxing.

And I will tell you right now that I have never, ever experienced that (I wish). I remember the heat, the bugs, the sweat, the sunburn, the bugs.  The prickly okra plants. The smelly tomato plants. The bugs.

Though, it’s only fair to say, it didn’t kill me either. And now, all these years later, I actually yearn for a small (very small) garden.

We learned very well which plants were weeds, and we also knew that if we only pulled off the tops of the weeds, what was above ground, we would hear about it later. Sue would tell us time and time again that unless we pulled the weeds out by the roots, they would just grow back faster.

Today is an anniversary that I marked last year with this post. This year, it’s 30 years since we went to court so that Sue could adopt my sister and me. It’s not a day I try to remember, at all (and my sister tells me she doesn’t even think of it), but every year it still seems to cross my mind like a phantom train. Empty, invisible, loud.

One thing I realized today, though, is that this year does feel different than any year before. Changed, even, from just last year. I know that what I’ve written here about my family is the difference, as I’ve dug with bare hands through this soil of the past.

As though these things that happened to us are the weeds, and I have to spend my life trying to keep them from taking over.

And wouldn’t you know? Sue was right about one thing. It is important to pull them out by their roots. But in this case, to expose the dark underside of things that look completely different above ground.

I can’t stop these stories from reaching up through the soil, toward light, and I don’t want to. Do I wish they weren’t there? Sure. Weeding never was an easy job, in life or in metaphor.

My hands are still in the soil, and will stay there for as long as it takes. It’s past high noon, though, I know that much. The sun slides with every day, with every word, toward the place where sky seems to meet soil. And maybe one of these days – any day now – I will come to understand, without the need for a reminder, that the sky and the land are part of each other. The soil is part air, the air carries particles of dust to other fields. The moon reflects in the smallest pond.

And there’s nothing to keep me, not anymore, from flying away from this work whenever I need to, high enough that the weeds become indiscernible from a field of sweet, warm strawberries.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily R June 29, 2009 at 6:08 am

we had a garden that we spent the whole summer weeding. huh.

Christy June 29, 2009 at 6:55 am

Beautiful, beautiful metaphor! What a great way to look at it–you nailed it! As always, I love what you’ve written…it’s like I can see through a window and see the scene you’ve set.

I think that sharing our stories can absolutely be a path to healing. It’s almost as though the more you share, the more the stories become just that–stories. Still part of who we are, without the jagged edges.


Boliath June 29, 2009 at 7:40 am

wow and thank you…i love this metaphor!

Lisa Milton June 29, 2009 at 8:07 am

Lovely. Simply lovely.

I’m glad this year is different.

tysdaddy June 29, 2009 at 9:09 am

I’ve got so many weeds that I refuse to look at many of them, none as rooted as you’ve described in past posts, but weeds nonetheless.

All this reminds me of that Peter Gabriel song about digging in the dirt . . . “to find the places I got hurt.”

Green Girl in Wisconsin June 29, 2009 at 9:14 am

of course you want to get rid of the weeds–with poison, by chopping them up, buy yanking their roots and throwing them far away. I can always tell a weed by how fast it grows, too. great metaphor.

Daryl June 29, 2009 at 10:58 am

I am thinking if it had been a loving home, the weeding would have been relaxing …

brianpapa June 29, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Great storytelling! (I need to go back and read that earlier link.)

My one and only job pulling weeds was at my Dad’s store in Manhattan, KS. He hasdall these weeds growing in his Safeway parking lot and he wanted ME to pull them. Took all day and he payed me $20 bucks. that may be the hardest $20 bucks I ever made. Not to mention all the weird stares like what’s that skinny kid in the glasses doing on his hands and knees in a safeway parking lot. Do you think they’re paying him.

Yeah, “those” stares.

Hatchet June 29, 2009 at 5:47 pm

I liked your metaphor.

However, on a serious note, you SHOULD have a garden when you move, but to save yourself a lot of weeding, build it up rather than down. There’s a whole lot less weeding in a raised bed!

The weeds will always be there, whether you pull them out by the roots or not. However, the more often you pull them out and expose their roots to sunlight, the weaker they get until eventually they go away. It just takes a long time, as you’ve found.

Ree June 29, 2009 at 6:43 pm

{{hugs}} You’re going to be just fine.

Tara Wermuth June 29, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Beautiful! I am one of those people who enjoys pulling weeds, although I never have had a garden…Loved the symbolism! Hope all is as well as it can be.

phd in yogurtry June 29, 2009 at 9:34 pm

(I just lost a comment I had typed out .. I hope this isn’t a repeat)

Someone needs to invent a fluid calendar where we can erase certain dates, retire them like an athelete’s jersey, never to wake up to that particular day again. Maybe you can, instead, start some new self-care tradition for yourself on this day, your own personal means of retiring the unhappy memories. But you are writing about all of this and that can be the best form of self-care.

Jenn @ Juggling Life June 29, 2009 at 11:06 pm

Beautifully put–and I hope the flowers are crowding out the weeds more and more as the years go by.

flutter June 29, 2009 at 11:14 pm

gorgeous, jen

fancy feet June 30, 2009 at 8:13 am

This is beautiful.

nicole June 30, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Yes. Well said.

May there come a year in the not so distant future when you just simply forget to remember.

apathy lounge June 30, 2009 at 8:37 pm

My younger sister insists that weeding helps her calm down. I look outside my window at my garden which is choked with unwelcomed growth and I can’t imagine how squatting in itchy weeds can make me feel anything but frustrated.

maggie may June 30, 2009 at 11:43 pm

your writing is just lovely. i’m so glad i found you.

the mama bird diaries July 1, 2009 at 6:56 pm

You are such a beautiful writer.

Please forgive me b/c when i first read your title i was so excited that you watch “Weeds” on Showtime too.

JCK July 1, 2009 at 10:22 pm

I’m so glad that you aren’t letting the weeds choke you any more. You ARE a gardener in every sense. Weeding out what does not fit your own square of plantings. Fertile soil. Here.

Thinking of you.

vodkamom July 2, 2009 at 4:26 am

Jennifer- that was truly lovely.

now get your ass over here and help me weed.

Louise July 8, 2009 at 2:51 pm

No one EVER made me weed when it was hot. Only in the morning, and if I goofed off, again in the evening. (I learned to not goof off.) Sue is lucky you didn’t die of heat stroke.

(I learned to wear long sleeves due to the okra.)

Bruce July 8, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Damn, you get an A+ for this work. Very well written and insightful with metephor that almost anyone can relate to. I wish more people wrote blog entries like this one. (P.S., I am one of those folks that does the zen thing when I weed……it like a jigsaw puzzle in reverse, for some reason I find it relaxing)

anymommy July 11, 2009 at 8:19 pm

This is haunting and sad and hopeful. I guess I have to steal your metaphor and say that your garden isn’t weed-choked by any stretch and every garden needs a few weeks. From a distance, it all looks beautiful. xo.

anymommy July 11, 2009 at 8:20 pm

A few weeds. I need a few weeks….of sleep!

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