We’ve lived in our house under these half-century old Maple trees for just about three years now. This is a fact that you’d think would come easily to mind and yet I sometimes have a difficult time believing it possible. Some days it seems as if we’ve lived here our entire married lives. At least that’s the dream that I tell myself. Three years ago today we lived in a different state due to my husband’s job. He was the Pastor of Children’s and Family Ministry at a mid-sized EFCA (Evangelical Free Church of America) church. Three years ago today and the end of that misstep was just coming to light. Hard to believe.
It was a bit like the Juniper bushes in our front yard. They were a low-lying, creeping bush planted beneath the downspout on one side and the front window on the other. Green is about the only way you can describe them. Unless you are anything like me and then the word “itchy” comes to mind. I didn’t choose to plant them there and yet I dutifully kept them exactly where they were while also painfully aware of my inability to remove them. Every time I pondered the possibility I felt guilty. They were alive, after all and doing their part to try to offset the carbon balance. I couldn’t remove them and yet I also couldn’t ignore the weeds growing in the middle of them, couldn’t bear the thought of doing the weeding without perhaps a pair of Kevlar covered gloves, nor could I excuse the fact that one was busy at work clogging up the end of the downspout. Paralyzed in my indecision there they remained until last week.
My Mom had come over by surprise to help me bail this sinking ship I call the landscaping. Another guilty point for me. One of the previous owners of this house clearly loved this yard. His or her affection reflected in the many careful plant choices surrounding its periphery. Earlier this year I thought I had things under control. I hadn’t done any weeding and yet for the most part it looked very similar to the day we moved in with the exception of a few weeds here and there. Along came June with her ample rains interspersed with hot, sunny days. The weed population exploded and it’s clear to me that I love the idea of a garden more than I actually love the garden. I was beginning to entertain the possibility of running the lawn mower over all of it. Instead we spent the better part of an afternoon carefully weeding the front yard.
We mostly weeded in silence, content to enjoy the presence of another. I like that about my Mother. Those comfortable silences come easily reflecting a far more serene relationship with her than when I was growing up. I find myself glad that our relationship has moved from the usual mother/daughter strife of growing up to these moments of commonality. One mother to another with fond memories in between. I’m thankful for another who both knows me as I was and as I am becoming. I mentioned in passing after being poked by the blasted Juniper for the third or fourth time how much I hated them. My Mother’s only response, “Got a shovel?”
We went to work then against a common foe. Come to find out she is no lover of Junipers – a relief given their near ubiquitous status as go to bush. How to begin? First cut off the smallest of the branches with a clippers. Then graduate to a saw for the larger of its appendages. Finish off with a shovel and dig around the perimeter of the root ball. They were incredibly rooted and did not give up easily. Content as they were in their home it was time for someone else’s vision to go and mine to begin to take shape. One bush and then the other, it felt good to open up those spaces.
That’s what moving here did for us. It uprooted the ideas that my husband’s family had for his life and opened up space to the possibilities. I won’t go into all of the details, but it reminds me of a conversation my husband and I had while his family was visiting. I had jokingly mentioned an incident early on in our relationship. He had been completely overwhelmed and brought his very sensitive self to light. I enjoy gently ribbing him about it every now and again. Partly because I think it’s cute and partly because I’ve never really understood why it was so upsetting to him.
It was New Year’s Eve and we were going to have one of those blended ice-cream beverages. Some sort of alcohol and vanilla ice cream? I can’t really remember. Most of us in my family are pretty lightweight drinkers. For me? More ice cream than alcohol please. My dear sweet husband could hardly believe what was happening. I knew he didn’t drink, knew he came from a fairly conservative and religious family, but didn’t think much beyond that. We weren’t offering any to him and respected his right to not partake. It never dawned on me that this would upset him.
I’ve asked him several times over the decade that I’ve known him exactly what upset him. He’s always mumbled something and made efforts to change the subject.
A couple of weeks ago instead of repeating the same course of action he became really silent and looked off into the direction of the landfill as he directed our vehicle toward our house. Another pause and then, “I guess it was partly because I was so tired. I’m far more emotional than I’d like when I’m tired.”
I nodded in understanding, who isn’t?
“Mostly it was because I had always been told that drinking alcohol was evil. Maybe not in those words specifically, but that was the understanding we came away with. When I was growing up, if we went to a wedding where they were serving alcohol we’d leave the reception before they served any. If you drank you were a sinner. Here I was, far from home with someone I really loved and you were going to consume alcohol.”
“College was a difficult time for me. Up until that point all I had was what my parent’s believed or thought. In college all I had was myself. You’re taught right and wrong in terms of black and white. There are the sinners which in spite of what we say are seen as doing evil. Are evil. It was difficult to reconcile.”
“At some point in your life, all you’re faced with is yourself.” That’s stuck with me over these last couple of weeks. There are some, I suppose, who once faced with the decision will stay the course. Others of us find another path. My husband has often expressed regret that he didn’t come to that point sooner. He laments all the money spent on college and graduate school and is sad when he considers where he might be in his career at this point if he had started things differently.
I like to think that I’m much more independent minded – always confident of my path and willing to go another way on my own. Then again, I did keep those Juniper bushes around for three years.