Another. And then another In the end I think there were 7 in total.
I went after my little plot of land today. There was a long neglected flower bed abutting the foundations of the front of the house, where crabgrass was cropping up and menacing to overtake the previously established weeds.
It was a glorious Fall day. Crisp breeze, clear skies, warm sun. Opposite, I saw that my neighbor had expanded his collection of seasonal yard paraphernalia. In addition to the pumpkin window decorations that came to life at night, a bale of hay and a flag had appeared. Mr. Farmer and his Mrs in their paisley orange and brown outfits, somewhat out of place in the urban jungle, were now firmly anchored in the grass. He always had the best yard. His petunias grew ten times the size of mine over the summer. I was dreading the day he would set chrysanthemums on the porch steps.
I kneeled down and went at it with my weeding tool and hot pink gardening gloves.
Apart from the crabgrass, there were at most five or six weeds belonging to various phyla in the forlorn flower bed. As I dug around to remove those pesky intruders, I kept getting caught on roots coursing just a few inches under the surface. These roots didn’t seem to belong to any plant, living or dead. And yet they were strong and sinewy, as if holding for dear life.
Sometimes I would stumble upon a piece of unidentifiable plastic, or the occasional Miller Light bottle cap, still bearing the injury imparted by the bottle opener. Or one of those cheap plastic cigar tips. Another. And then another. The former occupants of the house must have been heavy smokers. As I tugged on those recalcitrant roots, tracing back their path through recesses of earth visited only by worms, I uncovered many more treasures. An old tool handle, its metal tip rusted through and through. Several Jolly Rancher wrappers. An empty packet of Louisiana – The Perfect Hot Sauce. Crabgrass. I could feel the sweat running down my back; the not so dry grass where I was kneeling staining my favorite pair of jeans. White plastic bottle caps. More crabgrass. Wilted purple petunia flowers cast off by the flower box above. Impossibly long roots, with branching roots and side roots and rootlets and miniature roots thinner than a newborn’s delicate hair. My fingers were starting to hurt from all the pulling. Many a times I thought I had yanked the whole length of a particular root when suddenly it broke, the tip of the remaining peaking at me with glee from the roughed up soil. And then a small blue toy car. A child used to play here.
Of course it was ludicrous to think that I was the first to nestle in this old house. It was a 1oo+ year old shotgun house, with a small front porch but a large side porch where I pictured ice tea being served and neighborhood gossip being shared. In this traditionally working poor neighborhood undergoing an upscale urban transformation – suburbia is so passé, there aren’t too many shotgun houses remaining. I happen to know the man who used to own the house. His grandmother still lives two doors down and waves at me from her front porch. He comes by sometimes and tells me bits of stories about the house, always with an air of nostalgia about him. I don’t know why he had to leave or how my landlord came to own the house. Something about a fire.
In the end I found 7 cigar tips tucked away in the thicket made by the roots. Vestiges of other lives. A child used to live there and play with toy cars, Jolly Ranchers tucked in his pocket. Maybe he raced them on the porch steps. I imagine grown men sitting on those steps, drinking Miller Light, smoking cigars, venting their frustrations. I almost felt guilty for yanking on these roots with all of my might. Was I destroying their past? Was I instead to add items of my own to this cache and perpetuate the memories?
With a newfound reverence for the house – a house that is only to be “mine” for a fraction of its lifetime and this neighborhood’s history, I turned my attention back to the roots and finished the job. I collected the cigar tips, the toy car, the bottle caps, the wrappers, the hot sauce packet, and remaining trinkets and placed them into a trash bag. I thanked them for the glorious afternoon in the sun, the renewed appreciation for my humble abode, and the deep sense of belonging, right here, right now.
I think I will plant yellow pansies for the winter months.