It’s May, 1953, in Casper, Wyoming. I’m five. My mother takes my hand as we enter O’K’s plant nursery. I love its musky smell of peat and manure. This year, my mother has allotted me my own 2′ x 6′ garden plot on the south side of our small, white house, where I live with four, much older, siblings. My best friend is a white cat named Snow. When I hold her, she lies on her back, like a baby.
In this high, dry, windy climate, my Mother produces a bounty of tulip, iris, roses, peonies, and daisies, to name just a few. Here in the nursery, clay-potted flowers overflow wooden shelves. My mother’s eye searches rows of petunias for hues to spark her floral canvass. When she’s finished, we load white, hot pink, and purple petunias into the trunk of our Chrysler.
Then we return to wooden racks displaying envelopes of flower seeds. What to plant is entirely up to me. I savor pictures of zinnias, nasturtiums and marigolds. Then I see the sweet peas. The promising rattle of seeds, and the package’s red, pink, and purple flowers lure me into choosing them.
Once home, I go to my garden spot. With a big rock, I break up clods of dirt. Each day, I chop at the soil with the tines of a rake, making it finer. To my dismay, I discover Snow using the broken up soil as a litter box. Figuring she won’t like mud, I water the area well.
And now it’s June first, planting day. I’m up early. My mother understands my eagerness. Curiously, on the way out the door, she picks up a pencil and slips it into the pocket of her soft, cotton house dress.
Now both of us are on hands and knees beside my plot. My mother takes the eraser end of the pencil, inserts it a couple of inches into the wet ground, drops in a seed, and, with a gentle pat, covers it. She shows me how to stagger the holes, and then goes inside to finish her morning coffee. It may seem strange that I was left so much on my own in this endeavor. But my memory is not a lack of care or concern. It’s that my mother had confidence in my ability to plant my own garden. She never fussed over flowers she planted. She simply believed they’d grow.
Through June and July, I watched silken tendrils ascend a trellis made of sticks and string. August blossoms painted the side of the house scarlet, pink, purple and white. Juice jar bouquets sweetened our big, wooden kitchen table.
Memories scented thus prompted me to plant sweet peas this spring. It’s 2011, and I am 63. The seeds went into the Wyoming ground June first. It’s mid-July. The tendrils just now reach for their trellis. I call on a five-year-old’s faith to believe they will blossom before the first freeze of fall.