The Great White Devil in the Dead Woman’s Garden

I stood in the garden of a woman, who during her last few weeks on earth referred to me as the Great White Devil, a woman whose frown I think of every time we pass her grave on the way to the beach. Her great-grandson, a little boy she never got the opportunity to meet and spoil, climbs up a rickety wooden ladder to the top tier of the garden and runs through the weed choked length of it. The bottom isn’t much better. Weeds itching my legs and wind blowing red dirt over my feet, obscuring blue toenail polish. I tried to envision it, there must have been eggplants, tomatoes, and mustard greens at the very least, but I never saw it when she was alive caring for it. I hadn’t even known it was back here.

We had moved into a back area at my mother in laws six months previously. A decision that had more to do with Asian culture than failing in life at being an adult. It had been surprisingly good. Seamless and stress free, then there I was waking up with a three year old, a six month old and a car that wouldn’t start. We couldn’t leave the house. We have legs to walk of course but prowling the neighborhood and breastfeeding on the sidewalk didn’t seem like a way I wanted to spend hot afternoons. The park is nice, and we did go there but then inevitably we ended up home, and my anxiety reared its head as Gids tore the house apart and Rossi vented her teething problems to me. So we went outside.

The grass turf was great. I set up the pool, a beach umbrella for the baby, Gids played golf, and we never would have gone in the back if not for the commotion next door. The most colorful domestic rows. The man across the way was constantly bellowing at his wife for not bathing and making huge messes about the house whenever she parted from the computer she spent days at time in front of. Occasionally she would summon energy to be upset and storm out of the house, walking to the park with a young man too old to be her son. (Who was he? Was he in the house or did she call him and he walked over?) and then the bellower would turn his attention to his elderly father who in addition to doing all the cooking and laundry also dispensed unwanted life advice along the lines of, “Stop the screaming son”. I wondered who owned the house, I would never allow my adult child to live under my roof and scream in my face. “You stupid old man! Ect…ect…” but hey it was his kid I thought, who knows how he raised him? How he had treated him?

The other neighbor across the way seemed to be extremely friendly. She would come outside and upon seeing the kids and I in the yard begin waving in a spectacularly grand fashion, I would smile and wave back, unaware that she was gesturing me to call the police. She corrected this notion at a funeral, cornering me and letting me know her husband wouldn’t allow her to call the police on the neighbors. “But you! You could call! Call the police! I’m afraid, my heart.” She touched her chest, “My heart, I will have a heart attack I am so frightened by the fighting, what might happen!” Right. So you sick the Haole (white person) on them wanting me to be the un-neighborly one. Now I would, if someone was being physically assaulted I would pick up my cell and call Kauai’s finest, but this was a house of adults loudly going about their day providing a dramatic show for the rest of us, a show I didn’t want to be a part of. I no longer felt comfortable in the front yard, thinking of her heart condition every time she popped up over her rock wall frantically waving her arms.

So, we went to the back. Six months and I hadn’t even bothered to see what the back of the house looked like. It was fairly large. I was surprised. Gids was thrilled, finally a place to dig in the dirt as much as he wished. After checking with my mother-in-law we took over the back, and off I went searching Pinterest. Marveling over all the kids’ garden ideas, I asked my mom how people survived without Pinterest for inspiration. “They were actually creative and unique.” She said pursing her lips. “They didn’t just go around copying each other.” Humph. Well I grabbed some ideas from there, I bought chalk, chalkboard paint, a Croton Petra to be the center of a Dinosaur garden, and I decided to start an herb garden. Fresh herbs are very expensive at the grocery store and then there is the hassle of going to the store with two kids to buy them. I often found I would rather just eat bland food. So being the bug hater I am I stacked pallets up, and containers full of dirt and seeds were set atop them.

A few months later watering my container garden I was shocked to see a massive purple blooming monstrosity growing next to my pallets. A basil seed had escaped, and there in the ground, it had far surpassed its emaciated comrades in the containers. I was impressed. Having started to get over my bug phobias, the next few plants we bought ended up in the ground.

Plant nurseries are some of my favorite spots on the island now, Gids can run around and I push Rossi in the stroller past all sorts of interesting things, pausing when something catches my eye, and busting out my phone to Google it, see what it needs, if it’s compatible with our garden. Sometimes things aren’t like the Cypress trees. I’ve fallen in love though, so I buy them anyways, googling bonsai and dwarfing techniques.

If you visit us then you know I inevitably drag people to the back and show off my plants, the garden is a work in progress and not much to see, but the plants are the stars not whatever setup I eventually get going to showcase them. There are many I would show you rattling on and on, the whole time interrupting myself to talk about seeds I’ve ordered, what I plan to grow next, I’d be shocked if you remembered any of it. Well maybe not,  you would remember chocolate mint. A leafy invasive pine colored plant of a thing that both reeks and tastes of chocolate mint. The Vicks plant, imagine a bottle of Vicks Vapor Rub left open and exposed to radioactivity, and BOOM there it is. A cute fuzzy menthol plant. Basil. Basil in itself isn’t memorable, just delicious, but I’ve got a whole 10 varieties so far and let all of them go into their great blooming glory days and everyone seems to be as surprised as I am that basil has such beautiful flowers calling out to bees.

The best part of an herb garden is how kid friendly it is. When Gids’ friends are over they go around smelling and picking bits of basil, mint, thyme, and oregano, washing them off with the hose and chomping away. I picked up the term organic experience, my husband rolls his eyes and gags when I use it, but it’s something like this: At dinner the kids go outside with me, we pick chives, sage, rosemary, and marjoram, and inside all together, me with a blade and Gids with a butter knife, we chop it up. As he sprinkles it over a skillet or baking pan with whatever the main course is, I’m left with the wonderful feeling that I shared something real with my son, that I didn’t go insane hanging out with him while he spent hours making mud crabby patties, but instead got to know him better and laugh with him while I found a whole new world to delve into.

Thankyou so much for having taken the time to read my blog about gardening today! I appreciate it greatly and hope to have the honor of writing for you again. As a side note if you know me and live on Kauai feel free to stop by and check out our work in progress! I’ll send you on your way with a bouquet of basils, mints, and thyme!!!

2 thoughts on “The Great White Devil in the Dead Woman’s Garden

  1. Great post Em! Our world rotates around gardening as well. Good fun eating what you grew. Very nice that your son enjoys the garden and harvest with you. I look forward to your next post. Dad


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