My bed felt too good to leave that summer morning years ago. I yawned, fluffed my pillow, and rolled over. The house seemed quiet. Hopefully no one was around to tell me to get up.
“Get up!” my sister yelled from the hallway.
“For what?” I yelled back with no intention of leaving the bed.
“We told Nannie we’d pull weeds.” My sister now loomed over me, hand on her hip.
My grandmother’s farmhouse in Richmond was surrounded by flowerbeds which always required attention, but we loved helping her with the work. One tedious task was pulling the first flush of spring weeds from her rose beds. They were periodically smothered in wiregrass and other low-growing things which we simply referred to disgustedly as “chickweed.”
My sister and I pulled for hours that day. Starting at one end of the long bed, by the handfuls we ripped out wheelbarrow loads until we neared the opposite end. Tired of wiping gritty sweat from my face, I could think only of escaping on my bicycle to meet friends. But, just one patch of chickweed left and we’d be finished.
I stopped to stretch and noticed a thick stand of violets under a nearby crepe myrtle. For years we’d been unable to get rid of that particular mass, try as we might, and we knew we’d be wrestling with it that year too.
“We’ll pull that when we finish this,” I pointed with resignation to the chickweed at my feet.
“You can leave the violets be this year,” Nannie said as she walked towards them. From her old galvanized bucket she sprinkled a small handful of fertilizer into the leafy mass. We stared in disbelief.
“Did you just fertilize those weeds?” We were puzzled. She had always wished those violets gone.
“It’s only a weed if you don’t want it,” Nannie said, casually going about her business.
Baffled by her about face, we agreed to leave the violets alone and continued with our task at hand. I looked down and noticed several strands of chickweed lodged in my shoelaces. I plucked one stem and absent-mindedly studied the small piece of nuisance.
Although I’d pulled tons of that stuff over the years I had never bothered to look at it closely. “Hey!” I yelled to Nannie. “The stems on these things are square! Look! The flowers are like tiny orchids!” What a remarkable discovery – I thought.
What I had “discovered,” I learned years later, was that the sprawling nightmare is not chickweed. It’s actually purple dead-nettle, a non-native intrusive plant with purplish-green leaves and tiny purple flowers. The plant is found, well, all over the place. Unknown to me at the time.
“Can we keep these?” I asked excitedly, pointing to the last bit we had yet to pull from the rose bed. Suddenly I was determined to preserve something so special. “They might be the last of their kind!”
“Yeah, except for those.” my sister said sarcastically, pointing towards the barn where at least two acres of pasture appeared dusty purple from the masses of dead-nettle growing there.
Nannie stared down at the remaining patch of alien green in her rose bed. “You want to leave those weeds?” she asked.
“But it’s only a weed if you don’t want it,” I grinned. The problem I cursed every year was suddenly something unique and worthwhile to me.
Nannie smiled and said nothing. She walked again to the crepe myrtle where she sprinkled another small handful of fertilizer onto the violets growing beneath. Admittedly, they had turned into quite a display after weeks of benefitting from her new policy.
Nannie had shifted her view. Practiced at picking her battles, rather than fight the violets she chose to embrace them and by doing so turned a headache into a showpiece. Satisfaction can come with a simple change in attitude. Nannie learned that long ago and taught it now with the help of a few insignificant weeds.
I understood her change of heart and marveled at how smoothly she turned a problem into a bonus. From her reaction though, I guessed the same didn’t apply to my remaining clumps of chickweed in the rose bed. Sure, there were acres of the scourge growing just across the fence, but the remnant at my feet intrigued me. Nannie headed to the house as my sister and I stared at the scraggly patch I’d lobbied to preserve. Maybe she hadn’t understood my similar reversal of opinion.
Nannie was just a few steps past us when she stopped, turned around, and with a grin sprinkled a small handful of fertilizer onto my chickweed.
Stuart M. Perkins
94 responses to “Turning Over a New Leaf”
Beautiful story. Poignant meaning. Thank you for brightening my day 💗
You’re welcome, Stuart! I love your stories!
Thanks for that!
Aww, such a quintessential Storyshucker piece! I love it and your Nanny, Stuart.
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I looked for a way to email you but didn’t find any contact info on your site. So if you are interested our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
What a lovely story.
Nannie and I think the same about the weeds…weeds are underrated! I love your stories, Stu!
Interestingly enough, I had a similar experience not only with violets in my vegetable table garden but with another plant–poke salad. I had read somewhere that if you let it grow it produces red berries that provide food for certain birds in the fall/winter months. So now, I let the plants do their thing and cut them down once they’ve expired. Your Nannie was a wise lady. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, and yes she was! I know the pokeweed too! Yes, very red-purple berries that can really stain. I learned that as a kid when my cousin and I decided to use the juice as “war paint”. The only war was the one I had with my mother when she couldn’t wash it off… Thanks again!
Well! Wild violets are NOT insignificant weeds! My sister brings me lush aromatic bouquets of them from the farm we grew up on every year. The others? hmmm
Ha! They were always weeds at home… until they weren’t… hahah! Thanks for the comment, as always!
The wonderful memory and a powerful lesson for us all.
Thanks as always for your encouragement!
It IS all about perspective! Wonderful tale, Stu.
Thanks Annette! Always my encouragement.
grandmas are so like that.
They are! They’re the best.
Isn’t that the way life is? When we embrace the annoyances, they can turn into things of beauty. Oysters do that.
That’s true! Love it. Thanks!
Satisfaction can come with a simple change in attitude.
I love this.
I love it & your grandmother’s last minute response to your chickweed. There is beauty everywhere … in most things … especially in the eye of the beholder
Thanks as always!
Your Nannie was a wise, wise woman.
Thank you for liking my post this morning and thank you for this. May I recommend a companion piece, The flower beautiful, in Patchwork Papers by Temple Thurston; p111 ff in the project Gutenberg edition. There’s also a golden flowered deadnettle with variegated leaves.
Thanks! I will check that out!
I so enjoyed this story and the memories it invokes. I remember Nannie’s sense of humor and happy grin. And I agree that its only a weed if you don’t want it. Another great story, Stu.
Thanks Diane! We all still miss her!
The grass is greener where it’s watered!!
Your Granny sounds like she was such a wonderful woman. There are many plants that people pull up as weeds and yet they are very beneficial plants. Dandelions are amazing and have so many health benefits. The leaves are great in salads and filled with minerals and vitamins. Red clover flowers have been known to cure some cancers and have other health benefits. There are others, too, considered weeds yet are very healthy.
I also just looked up purple dead nettle and it has many health benefits, too.
Not a weed then, I knew it! Lol
I should try them all… just haven’t!
It wasn’t until I was in my 60’s that I learned your Nannies lesson.
Never too late!
Reblogged this on Brian's Shots And Thoughts and commented:
Listening to an ‘Old One’ can change your life.
I talk a lot and take many an image but I don’t write very well. I read your stories and they simply resonate with me. Hence the reblog.
I appreciate that and it’s the highest compliment. Writing is fun, but the most fun comes from someone reading it. Thanks again Brian!
How I do love your stories!
Thanks Anne! You would have loved Nannie too. Everyone did!
She was very, very special.
Love this — a change in perspective…your Nannie “shifting her view”. Just the tonic I needed at the end of a long day today, Stuart. Thank you so much! ❤
Thanks Victoria! Nannie was tonic for a lot of us.
…and we love that you share her with us! 😉
The wisdom of grannies – we can learn a lot from them – and need to be aware of what we pass on to the next generations. I really enjoyed the handful of fertilizer on your chosen plant 🙂
I just love your stories. Thank you so much for sharing. ❤
Thanks for that encouragement!
All I can say is, what great kids to help with weeding.
Anything for Nannie!
What a precious story!! ❤️
Another great story!!!!
All a matter of perception!
I just love this story!!!
Thanks to the change in your attitude, the weed turns into a flower. Viewed from a different angle, some problems are blessings in disguise. I love your story.
Thanks for that!
A great piece I enjoyed reading it especially since I knew your grandma nannie!!
Hi Ruth! Oh yes, you saw her in action for many years! Hope all is well in your part of the world. Stu
This reminds me of the delicate little white flowers (weeds) that show up in my yard every spring, carpeting the entire front yard, and the patches of the back yard that the dogs haven’t trampled. My neighbor, who has a yard service, always wants to mow those down and I never let him, because they might be weeds to him, but to the honeybees and butterflies, they are an early source of nectar. And for me, they serve as a reminder of what is coming.
I love it. And that’s true. These things remind us of the cycles!
Love your story. My husband needs to read it. He is always attacking the weeds hoping for a perfectly coiffed garden.
Thanks Wendie! I think my grandmother hoped for a perfectly coiffed garden too (we never achieved that but we loved it just the same!)
I loved this story. Thank you. Like your grandmother, I have also decided to embrace my violets. But I cannot bring myself to love chickweed. But I appreciate the sentiment – it’s only a weed if you don’t want it. That can apply to SO many things in our life. Sometimes you just need to accept the inevitable! 🙂
Exactly! There are a lot of things out there we call weeds and maybe not all are? Chickweed is… lol
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Stuart, Great piece. Always wisdom intertwined.
“It’s only a weed if you don’t want it,” Nannie said, casually going about her business.
Nannie, I believe, in her own way expressed that, beauty is in the eye of the beholder or what is perceived to be trash to one is another’s treasure.
I totally agree with you. She taught all of her grandchildren so much. Thank you as always for your great comments!
You’re welcome, Stuart.
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It’s such a nice story
Thanks for that!
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Wonderful story! While weeding in our quarter acre cottage garden one day, my Mom stood up and said “These weeds probably have more nutrition than everything we planted!” I really wished we’d had a change of heart about those weeds then because I learned several years later that our ‘weeds’ were highly nutritious. 💕✨
I love that! People mention dandelion greens for a salad… but I haven’t tried them!
People have recommended dandelion greens to me as well but allergy testing informed me that I need to abstain. My Grandma King found a forgotten bottle of dandelion wine. I was a teen and eager to try the first glass. Big mistake! That fifteen year old bottle could have sent a rocket to Mars!
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Really nice story.
You are very welcome ❤