Months ago my friend, Melissa, brought me two pots of butter daisies. I plopped them at the base of a big old magnolia tree in my front yard, with the idea of leaving the hearty spreading plants to escape and proliferate on their own. This morning I decided to hurry the process along, and dug some starts from a wild patch growing on the side of the road.
I did not dig to plant the butter daisy sprigs–that would require a reciprocating saw and great deal of effort to cut through the roots of the magnolia. I simply dumped potting soil atop the ground in a couple of heaps, stuck in the plants and tamped around them. I also bent two trailers from the pots, and covered them with the potting soil. I then scrapped down beneath the magnolia leaves to the rich leaf mold and layered it on top.
As I straightened and dusted dirt from my hands, the unthinkable happened. My mother’s words came out of my mouth: “Well, I’m just piddlin’.”
Mama comes often to mind when I’m messing about with plants. I don’t think I can call it truly gardening. That would imply I know what I’m doing and have a plan, neither of which applies to me. Piddling was Mama’s word.
I am the same age that Mama was when she began growing a small flower garden, something I cannot recall her ever doing before. I remember her throwing buckets of water on a struggling mimosa sapling; I think she wanted it to live because she liked the name mimosa. But I had never seen her actually plant a garden.
We had moved her halfway across the continent to live near us in Oklahoma, because everyone of our family had moved or died off back home, and she was alone. I didn’t see it at the time, but realize now that this move, as all such moves do, closed an era of her life and opened for her a brand new one, one that allowed many regrets and worries to drop away and freed her to explore within and without.
To start it all off, somewhere Mama procured a wisteria cutting. She planted the tender shoot at the base of the chain-link fence behind her duplex apartment. That wisteria shoot began to grow, there in the harsh conditions of the edge of the high-plains. The lawn-care man whacked it with his weed-eater, but when Mama saw it coming back, she dared to go out there and put a little protective fence around it. As it grew, she trailed it up the fence, having a bang-up time simply watching to see if it would survive. (It did and bloomed!)
From there came the strip of garden outside her living room window. I vaguely recall digging at least part of it. The garden grew and bloomed with this colorful flower and that one. When I would visit her and find her out tending her plants, she would say, “Oh, I’m just piddlin’.” I think of her smile and the light in her coffee-brown eyes.
For the better part of my life, and especially as I have aged, people have remarked on my resemblance to my mother. Let me tell you, I hated hearing it. I suspect many women feel this way. Mother-daughter relationships can be complicated. Mine certainly was, and so was my mother’s with her mother.
The older I’ve become, the more I understand there are things that simply are and cannot be escaped. As I was blessed to be my mother’s care-giver in her final years, I came to know her more intimately and to admire her humor, courage, and grace, all traits I could only see and appreciate as I matured.
And in my maturity I understand that my main objection to my resemblance to my mother was because I feared being alone as she was.
The fearful thing has now happened. I am alone. And as so many things that we fear, it really isn’t quite as fearful as I feared it would be.
This week, as I enter my tenth year on my own alone, I find I am surprisingly content. I have a life where I discover the pleasure of having time to simply think, to enjoy reading again, and writing in a brand new way for the writing’s sake, not always for publication but because I can do no other if I am to follow the calling of my heart. And one where I learn the comfort and joy of ‘piddlin’ with plants.
I’ll report if the butter daisies flourish.