**For your reading pleasure! Be sure to ask questions about any words or phrases that you don't understand.**
During my childhood visitors to my grandmother’s home often wouldn’t stop at the front door. Instead they would head straight for the side gate that led to her back yard and grab hold to the opening latch. There they would fall silent and still as they carefully surveyed the area. Only the untrained visitor or the most foolish friends entered Nana’s back yard unannounced. Nana was known to have the near bipolar quality of being loving and generous to her friends and neighbors in one instant yet ready in the next to run them through with various garden implements if they infringed on the boundaries of her property. In particular, visitors to the back yard were seen as possible spies come to steal her gardening genius. This behavior was especially perplexing to new friends who no doubt had been told at some point and time to “Stop by and see my old piece of garden”, by none other than Nana herself.
This odd stance on property rights was shared and enforced by her furry sergeant at arms, a large German shepherd named Queenie. It was the knowledge of Queenie’s presence and Nana’s reclusive yet passionate gardening ways that caused most to simply lay their hands on that latch and holler, “Annie Lee you out in the garden?” I always knew that Nana had passed her love for gardening on to me. However, it took my daughter to reveal that she had also passed on her wacky plant based paranoia as well.
At age five, my daughter suddenly transformed from a Dora loving house kid into a cute plant loving fairy desperate to grow everything with seeds. Every serving of fresh fruit ended with, “Mama, save the seeds, we can plant that!” With a burgeoning seed collection she was ready for serious gardening tools. A trip to the dollar store later and she was ready to turn our kitchen window sill into the Victory Garden. Being the sweet kid that she is Nybella fully intended this garden to be an all out Mommy Daughter project. Little did she know that lurking within the heart of her dear Mom was Nana’s gardening protection plan, on steroids.
We began our planting without much incident but, once the seedlings erupted from the earth so did a bit of my “inner Nana”. Each time Nybella attempted to tend our growing bounty I felt a tightening of my spine, “She’s going to kill them”, I thought to myself. I tried to shoo her away from the plants by distraction. “Hey why don’t you color… and want to read?” were my first attempts to keep her away from the delicate shoots. As my attempts failed, I became desperate, “Why don’t you watch some T.V.?” Terrible I know, but, I rationalized that she could watch a gardening show then it wouldn’t be so bad. Another failed attempt. She would have nothing but dirt in her nails and those plants in her hands. Worse still was just as my Nana had a furry helper so did my daughter, a cat.
Catelya Sweet Kitty was prone to bouts of mania. Nothing was sacred to her. She loved two things in our house, my daughter Nybella and those darn plants. I spent my mornings fending off the cat as she sniffed and chewed the leaves of our mini orchard. The afternoons I spent clenching my teeth as Nybella, poured too much water and pinched too many leaves. She was having the time of her life so proud she was of her little orange, mango, and avocado trees. I on the other hand was in a hell of my own making. I spent fitful nights wondering what I could do to save the trees, how could I stop Nybella from killing them? The answer came with a loud crash in the middle of the night.
As I rushed downstairs to identify the source of all the noise the answer quickly raced up the stairs past me; it was the furry blur of a guilty cat. In the kitchen I found four formerly full pots on the floor their contents strewn about. That darn cat! As I tried to piece together what was left of our small fruit orchard I felt sad and relieved at the same time. At least I didn’t have to worry anymore. I began to wonder why I had felt the need to protect the plants so intensely. Why couldn’t I just enjoy the process? I thought of my grandmother and her hyper protective need to guard her blossoming green treasures. I remembered that while she gave no quarter to the random garden visitor I was always welcome. Nana shared her piece of garden with me utterly. I know that my clumsy child’s feet trampled more than a few still fragile shoots. My exuberant work with a hose had resulted in uprootings and plant drownings. Yet for all my unintentional mayhem Nana never shooed me from her garden. She didn’t just grow vegetables there; she also allowed me to grow.
The next morning when I told Nybella what happened to our tiny orchard she just smiled, hugged me, and said, “That’s okay Mama, now we can plant some more seeds and grow them all over again.” And we did. I’m sorry to say that even with our best efforts we eventually lost all of the seedlings, except the mango. Amazingly it persists. We tend it together everyday. We researched the growth cycle and found that it is at least five years until fruiting. I don’t know if it will live that long. I do know however long it lives we will enjoy the time tending it together. Now, when I see Nybella working on the tree and I feel the need to protect the plant I push the feeling away. I remember Nana. I remember the way that she made me feel in her garden, safe and loved. I remember that protecting her plants never came before protecting my young spirit. I give my daughter a kiss on the cheek and let her tend the tree. I decide that growing a healthy mango tree is great, but, growing a healthy, happy, garden loving daughter is better.