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A New Leaf

While working in the flower garden out back yesterday, I noticed a few “weeds” in full bloom. I was reminded of this little piece I wrote not long ago about those very plants:

A New Leaf

My bed felt too good to leave that early summer morning years ago. I yawned, fluffed my pillow a little, 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 in a tone indicating I had no intention of leaving the bed.

“We told Nannie we’d pull weeds.” My sister loomed over my bed, hand on her hip.

My grandmother’s farmhouse on the outskirts of Richmond was surrounded by huge curved flowerbeds, with several more dotting the ample yard. In addition to tending to the yearly cycles that played out in her massive vegetable garden, there were also routine chores in her yard that required a good deal of work. One tedious task was pulling the first flush of summer weeds from her rose bed. The entire bed was periodically smothered in wild violets and other low-growing things we had to pull, which we at home simply referred to disgustedly as “chickweed.”

My sister and I pulled for hours. Starting at one end of the long bed, by the handfuls we ripped out wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow load until we had nearly reached the opposite end. Tired of persistent gnats and wiping gritty sweat from my face, I could think only of getting on my bicycle to meet friends down at Falling Creek for some cool relief. Just one more hefty patch of chickweed and we would be finished.

As I stood to stretch, I noticed a thick stand of violets under a nearby crepe myrtle. In years past we had never been able to get rid of that particular bunch of violets, try as we might, and we knew we would be back at it again this year.

“We’ll pull those violets when we finish this,” I said with resignation, pointing to the chickweed at my feet.

“You can leave the violets be.” Nannie responded as she walked towards them. She tossed a small handful of fertilizer into the center of the mass from the bucket she carried.

“Did you just fertilize those weeds?” I asked, puzzled. She had always wished the violets gone.

“It’s only a weed if you don’t want it.” Nannie said, tossing a second small handful of fertilizer.

Still puzzled, we agreed to leave the violets alone. Stretching again, I sat on the ground to rest and noticed several strands of chickweed lodged in my shoelaces. I plucked out one stem and absent-mindedly studied the small piece of nuisance.

Although I had pulled up pounds of that plant over the years I had never bothered to look at it closely. “Hey!” I yelled to Nannie. “The stems on these things are square, not round! And look! The flowers are like tiny orchids!” In my mind, I had discovered something remarkable.

What I had “discovered,” I learned years later, was that this was not chickweed. It was 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. That was 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. I was certain I was preserving something special. “These 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 in the sun from the masses of dead-nettle growing there.

Nannie stared down at the remaining patch of green in her rose bed. “You want to leave these weeds?” she asked.

“But it’s only a weed if you don’t want it,” I grinned. The very same weedy problem I had cursed every year was suddenly something unique and worthwhile to me.

Nannie smiled and said nothing. She walked back to the crepe myrtle where she tossed another small handful of fertilizer onto the violets growing beneath.

Nannie had shifted her view of those violets. Practiced at picking her battles rather than fighting them, she embraced them and by doing so turned a headache into a showpiece. It was all about perspective. Satisfaction can come by a simple change in attitude. Nannie learned that lesson long ago. And now she taught it with the help of a few insignificant weeds.

I quickly understood Nannie’s change of heart regarding the violets, and I marveled at how smoothly she turned a problem into a bonus. But I wasn’t sure she agreed when I applied that notion to the scraggly green weedy blob remaining in her rose bed. Nannie walked towards the house, passing my sister and me still sitting on the ground.

She was just a few steps past us when she stopped, turned around, grinned and tossed a small handful of fertilizer onto my chickweed.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Look For Sprinkles

Today had been a cabbage of a day. Now I needed sprinkles.

It was a harried, unpleasant day at work. Nothing extraordinarily gruesome, just the sort of day we all have now and then which we’re glad to see come to a close. A hectic day full of irritable people and I resigned myself to endure it to the end. Yes, it was a cabbage of a day but once the cabbage was gone I could have my sprinkles.

As a kid growing up in Richmond, Virginia, I sometimes accompanied Mama on shopping trips to Southside Plaza, the local shopping center in its day. For me, eating at the S&W cafeteria there at the Plaza was the highlight of the trip. Mama picked our lunch items but allowed me the dessert of my choice. I always asked for pudding with sprinkles.

Sprinkles made me smile.

Desserts waited for me in neat rows behind glass at the end of the line where Mama paid for lunch. As she did, I looked over pudding options searching for those with sprinkles on top. There were many desserts but not all were sprinkled with happiness and I became frustrated if I could find none. Mama waited patiently for me to discover them, knowing I’d just not seen them yet.

“Sometimes you really have to look for sprinkles.” Mama said. “Just keep looking.”

She was right, of course, they were there all along but sometimes it took skill to see them. I chose my pudding, enjoyed my sprinkles, and smiled all the while.

I’m sure Mama picked a variety of things for each lunch, but of all the items she chose for me during all of the lunches we had at the S&W, I can recall only one. Cabbage. It was disgusting. Mama’s rule was hard though – eat my lunch first, and then I could have my dessert. I learned to endure the cabbage knowing that sprinkles awaited me on the other side. Then I would smile.

I thought about that on the bus ride home from work today. What a cabbage of a day I’d endured and how ready I was for sprinkles. As I sighed in relief at the day being through I overheard an elderly man in the seat ahead of mine telling jokes to his friend. I smiled at each of his punch lines. Were those my sprinkles?

When I stepped from the bus to walk home I saw two young boys carrying a fat black puppy. Not knowing which one it wanted more, the puppy rapidly licked first one boy and then the other, back and forth. The boys’ uncontrollable giggles made me smile. Were those my sprinkles?

I didn’t know what I expected my sprinkles to be today but surely jokes and a puppy didn’t qualify. Or did they? I had smiled, after all.

We all have cabbage days and as sappy as it sounds we all need to look for sprinkles. It’s imperative. We might find them in a stranger’s jokes, the comical antics of a puppy, or a million other places. As Mama taught me, it sometimes takes skill to see the sprinkles and the more cabbage of a day you have, the harder your sprinkles might be to find, but they’re out there.

Find the sprinkles. Tomorrow could hold another serving of cabbage and the next day could hold even more, so find the sprinkles where you can. It’s not always easy.

“Sometimes you really have to look for sprinkles.” Mama said. “Just keep looking.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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