|Guv and his tomatoes, in a warmer climate.|
Many nights we'd clamor, "Let's watch slides!" and usually the answer was no, it's too late, it's too much trouble, but every now and then the answer was yes, and someone would haul the screen out of its rapidly disintegrating box and set up the shaky aluminum tripod legs in the space between the living room and the dining room, and someone else would retrieve the carousel projector from the bottom doors of the little Dutch cabinet (or so we called it, misunderstanding and mispronouncing the word "hutch"), and we'd all sit cross-legged on the carpeting and stare, rapt, at the pictures of our history as they flashed by, our history of weeks and months and maybe even a couple of years ago. We'd squeal and blush and look away whenever our own face appeared, gigantic on the screen, and then it would be replaced by someone else's face and we would intensely wish our own face back.
After 1966, we watched the slides less often, and those of us who were still small and silly and unthinking kept up a running commentary, chattering about when and where the picture was taken, and when a picture of John Patrick showed up we would say, knowledgeably, "That was when Bobby was still alive," and my parents would get up and walk out of the room. One of the older kids would kick us to make us shut up. But why? It was just a fact to us, another bit of our history that we needed to repeat and repeat in order to understand.
When the white light beamed empty, showing us the blank glittering screen, the disappointment was palpable. We wanted more! More big-screen color pictures of ourselves, proving that we were important and loved and photographed and having a happy childhood.
But the show was over, everything was dismantled, and life was no longer in Technicolor. I do not know where those slides are anymore; they were cannibalized, bit by bit, by older children as they left the nest, maybe wanting some reminder of their young years, and then by the rest of us more boldly because, why not? The carousels had already been robbed. Our history was already edited.
But I clearly remember the picture of myself pulling weeds. My head is down, I am leaning on one hand and reaching with the other. In the image, I am not prominent; it is the garden that gets most of the frame. Guv took it, Guv the gardener, Guv the Missouri boy, who built that rock garden and planned it carefully, planting it with sweet, modest flowers--pansies, snapdragons, petunias, and one yellow primrose in memory of Bobby. He encircled the whole thing with snow-on-the-mountain, which climbed over the rocky perimeter and made its way to the center. It was my job to keep it in check.
"You have to pull it out by the roots," Guv said, but I didn't; my hands weren't strong, and I didn't want to go to the trouble of doing it right: Moistening the soil, and using a tool. I just grabbed with my little hands and pulled, breaking off the ivy at ground level. It looked like I'd done my job, but of course I had not and so had to do it again, often.
|Not really gardening; just playing in the mud.|
He gave us plants, which we grew in clay pots in the front picture window: gloxinias, and begonias. I had to be reminded to water mine, and when I did I tried to mimic Guv's nurturing ways, talking quietly to my flower, pouring water gently on the leaves to give them a bath.
"Don't water the leaves," Guv said. "They'll rot."
And so in exasperation I decided that gardening was too hard. I would never understand it, and, never persistent when challenges came my way, I gave up. I buried myself in "The Gateway to Storyland" and wondered: If not gardening, then what?