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