Well Ornamented

Every year I say it about our Christmas Tree

This one is our prettiest tree ever

Even if it isn’t

It is

Covered in ornaments each of which tell a story

We are decidedly homespun

Nothing in any design magazine would ever be on our tree

Not that those trees aren’t wonderful

It’s just not what we do

Who is this Christopher Radko?

Never heard of him

Just kidding

We have some of those ornaments, even some given to us when were newlyweds

Mainly, our fir’s branches are covered in ornaments from Christmases past

Some are almost fifty years old

Just like their owners

I made that bell at the Blythewood Kindgergarten under the tutelage of Miss Weezie Gibson who had to tell some of my classmates to not eat the paste we used that day

We keep the bell in a box labeled “Paper Ornaments”

They also include paper ornaments made by our children

From Toddler Time at St. Michael’s

From First (Scots) Kindergarten

From their grammar school years

Both of our girls rush to put their handmade treasures on the tree

Places of prominence

Lots of glitter

Glue

Tape

Construction paper

Ribbons

Such J O Y given

Each child has her own box of special ornaments that stay in a sideboard along with her own bin of ornaments that can remain in the attic the other eleven months of the year

When we married, my parents gave me just such a box

They gave the same to my brothers

Same as my bride

Her parents gave her the ornaments she made

My parents also gave us some ornaments that had been on my tree growing up which I always adored including some stiff snowflakes made by some ladies in the 1970’s

We also hang little sweetgrass baskets because the Lowcountry demands it

Along with some sand dollars and lettered olives

Each and every item has its own tale

Such as

The teachers were lazy that year

I used a lot of glitter

Hey, I remember this one from the 4’s

I used a lot of macaroni on that one

I think that was some of my best work

They made us make a lot of snowflakes

I worry that I will rip some of the paper ornaments

One of my favorites is a twirly spiral which turns into a Christmas Tree

It sits lightly on a branch

Our eldest made that twirly spiral Christmas tree under Miss Janet Sosnowski’s watchful eye at Toddler Time at St. Michael’s some 16 years ago

It has one little blemish

Repaired with a little scotch tape

Gingerly placed back in the paper ornaments box before the New Year

In 2014, the year the tree fell, all these ornaments survived unscathed

Christmas Miracle

I see the ornaments and think of so many no longer with us

I see the ornaments and think of neighbors, friends, teachers, grandparents, great aunts, great uncles, aunts, uncles, cousins

I see the ornaments and think of so many years of love

I see a painted oyster and think of my across the street neighbors, the Aimars

I see the ornaments and think of so many years passing in the blink of an eye

I smile at each and every one of these treasures

I truly have no idea where the time has gone

So quickly

As we hang the ornaments each year, I still see myself hanging many of these same ornaments in our den on The Point in Beaufort

As I string the lights, I think of the yearly discussions my parents had over placement, the stand, the lights, the securing of the tree

Discussions

That’s what we will call them

I still see myself in footie pajamas staring up at the tree

Counting the days until Christmas comes

Looking a lot like The Cowboy in Joan Walsh Anglund’s The Cowboy’s Christmas

May be it helps that I hang an ornament of the same Cowboy similarly dressed every year

Here’s wishing you all memorable trees with memorable ornaments

This year and every year

Chaud-n-froid

We still congeal things in these parts

I can’t tell you the number of fellow Southerners who still add Knox gelatin to various forms of fruits, vegetables, liquids and pour into either ring molds or individual molds and “refrigerate for several hours” as many a Junior League cookbook advise

Aspics are old as can be

Chaud froid

Actually kept meats from spoiling

Tomato aspic is a highlight, still, during warm months

Its gelatinized cousins make appearances at other meals

My maternal grandmother loved a congealed salad

Having spent a lot of time with that generation, I, too, am in love with a good wobbly concoction often served with a bop of mayonnaise

This week, we will congeal cranberries with pineapple, celery, and pecans

A two day process

It’s one of our favorite parts of the Thanksgiving meal

The ring mold, with removable center for an easy salad release, is cleaned and ready to go

There is nothing fashionable, trendy, small batched, artisanal, curated, or farm to table about our cranberry salad

Well, may be the cranberries

We serve this every Thanksgiving instead of the blob out of the can which I have nothing against. We just grew up with this version or ones like it

Same with green bean casserole

Didn’t grow up with it

We don’t make it

A few years ago, a second cousin and I traded our receipts of cranberry goodness with pictures of final products

Captioned messages with

Yes we cran

Cran you dig it

Jelly?

Get it?

Jelly?

Two grown men fighting over who had the better version of congealed cranberry salad

His grandmother, a great aunt of mine, would have giggled herself silly as she often did

I think my version is the best

Especially with that bop of mayo on top

Which is a requirement

One year, we were in the North Carolina mountains for Thanksgiving with an actual blizzard raging outside

Fourteen inches of snow

There was no mayonnaise in the house

So, Thanksgiving morning, I took eggs, salt, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and vegetable oil and beat up homemade mayonnaise

What else did I have to do in a blizzard?

Those assembled loved it

As we have to have that bop of mayo on top

I have dear friend who may read this and be physically ill due to that person’s unmitigated disdain of all things congealed and the whipped fat bop on top

Apologies in advance ATP

However, I cannot imagine Thanksgiving without the following work of art on the sideboard

This version is from 300 Hundred Years of Carolina Cooking (Including Game Preparation) by the Junior League of Greenville, 1970, Greenville, South Carolina

Specifically Miss Nelle Griffin’s receipt as modified by me

Forget the Lime Dressing shown and add that bop o’ mayo

Gobble gobble

Cranberry Salad

2 packs (about 1 quart) fresh cranberries

3/4 c sugar

9 oz crushed pineapple

Juice of 1 orange

Rind of 1 orange, grated

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 c boiling water

2 envelopes Knox gelatin

1 c chopped celery (minced really)

3/4 c chopped pecans

Grind cranberries in food processor until fairly small. Mix cranberries, sugar, and pineapple and refrigerate overnight. Let gelatin soften in orange and lemon juice. Add boiling water to fully dissolve. Add to cranberry mixture with remaining ingredients. Pour into ring mold or individual molds and refrigerate overnight. Serves 8

Mo Mo MoMA

 

“Art is nothing if you don’t reach every segment of the people.” Keith Haring

 

 

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L’Atelier Rouge..rusty red..favorite color…kill me…dead

Rainy Sunday, Gotham morn

Meeting Godfamily amid the storm

At the MoMA newly expanded

Tickets bought, so much branded

content waiting for the masses

Germans, ‘mericans, lads and lasses

 

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whose hotel umbrellas shoved in holders

ready to be rubbing shoulders

with Abby’s treasures on 53rd

every language being heard

as the ticketed head upstairs

to the new galleries all impaired

by the crowds who fill the space

six deep at Starry Night they race

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from room to room barely looking

with phone cameras constantly hooking

shots of paintings by Andy, Keith, and Mary Cassatt

Come on! Show me what you got

including Henri’s swimming pool

Room 406, the height of cool

soft gray light and a recessed seat

3c9b4b81-ceb3-4b5e-9be3-04adb47b302b

 

Thanks, Mr. Geffen. It feels complete.

So the crowds stumbled through

many ignoring Yves Klein “Blue”

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Our eldest realized that a great reflection

in that work deserved inspection

a family shot in the ultramarine

Quick! Post it to your screen

to snap and insta and send to friends

the constant sharing never ends

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A moment with Frida and Fulang-Chang

with the empty mirror beside which they hang

We stand in the mirror; become the art

Then, sadly, it’s time to depart

Sad farewells to those whom we adore

Into the rain, we head, we four

Thanks to Abby, Lillie, Mary Quinn

Sandlappers can’t wait to see you again

 

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The Last Luncheon

 

Going

Going

Gone

Barney’s New York

The Pressmans’ legacy

Once the place where we out of towners went to figure out what the cool kids were wearing

Over the years, our stops in the flagship store on Madison have felt more and more like out of body experiences than high touch, high end, exclusive retail

“Um, who in the world would wear that?”

“What is the matter with Barney’s?”

“This is not the store we knew”

“Who’s gonna pay for that?”

The press announced with no small amount of schadenfreude that it’s all a thing of the past

A great shopping experience

Cutting edge clothes

Beautiful space

Concierge service

Gone

Over

Finished

Which brings us to the subject at hand, our meal at Fred’s in the City

We love Fred’s at Barney’s

Clever play on the Flintstones

Brightly lit space on the Ninth Floor

We went there the day after Thanksgiving a few years ago

Place was jammed packed

We went there with just we four a few Saturdays ago on our trip to NYC

The eight floors below seemed empty

The concierge smiled as we entered off Madison

But everything else in the store was dead

Dead

Especially the mens’ department

I guess my Barney’s brand ties are now collectors’ items

We looked at some items before our 1 p.m. reservation

I swanny

No one was in Barney’s

No one

It used to always be packed

We took the elevator to the Ninth Floor, and, on exiting, it was like nothing had changed….felt just like 2012

Wait?

That’s nostalgia?

Seven years ago?

The brightly lit space

The waiters in constant motion

The hostesses being gracious yet firm

“Just a moment, Sir, your table will be ready”

The foursomes who eat there every Saturday

The table of a famous actress in the corner

The well turned out NYC family with disaffected daughter and son constantly on their phones

Us

The London family whose table backed up to ours

The little lady who seemed lost until the waiter approached. She grabbed him by the arm and said, “Oh, thank God. Jose! It’s you. Where’s Walter?”

“Your husband is this way…..”

We sat in a booth facing the windows

Lobster bisque

Caesar salads

Lentil soup

Frittes for the table

Always frittes for the table

The two ladies from New Jersey with their daughters

“I can’t believe this is all going away”

“Drink your Bloody. May be the last one”

It felt so clubby

And bright

And familiar

The food was never going to knock the socks off of its patrons

But, it was always good

And reliable

For a chain in a department store

The announcement some five days later that there would now be pop-ups and instagrammable events in the store makes our meal there seem like some glorious invocation of the past

A recent past

Something so sad about the great temple of commerce going away

Something so comforting about our meal at Fred’s

Always so comforting

The lentil soup special that day pleased our eldest

Huge chunks of lobster in the bisque

The bread basket teeming and ready to be dragged through olive oil

So last century

So damned good

All I could think as I read the news about Barney’s demise was that I was glad we were there for one last luncheon

In light of the lentil soup special that day, I also thought there was something Biblical in the announcement that 660 Madison would soon be gone

Jacob and Easau

Selling off the Pressmans’ birthright for metaphorical bowls of lentil soup

Barney’s CEO stated that her entire industry is in survival mode

High rents

Lower sales

Online and direct sales increasing

But, oh, that lobster bisque

We’ll miss you Fred’s and Barney’s

Yabba dabba doo

On the 6

The Local

I love New York City

Like love

I would move my wife and children there in a minute if we had a gajillion dollars

I love everything about it

Including the large rat that ran across our path on our way to supper in the tony, quiet, and decidedly un-hip UES

But, mostly, I love it because of the people

The people we were scheduled to meet

Godfamily

They live in London

They used to live in New York

We don’t see them enough

We were going for Godmama’s birthday party on Friday night

And the other people I love

My high school pals who live there, too

I love them

Like love

A few weeks before the trip, I sent out another APB to the crew

A few emails, texts

Cocktail hour scheduled

I could only meet for any hour or so before the birthday party, said party being the whole reason we were there

Arranged

Done

Planned

Time and place appointed

So, I left my wife and children in SoHo on a Friday afternoon after the best lunch visiting with the Godfamily in NoHo

After we had gone further downtown in SoHo

To Glossier Flagship in Lower Manhattan

That’s a whole other crazy story

Anyway, I walked from Canal Street up through that benighted bastion of consumerism, over to Broadway, back through NoHo, past Grace Church and The Strand Bookstore, around Union Square, then up to Gramercy Park and then into The Freehand Hotel, prearranged meeting spot

I would love to have access to Gramercy Park, from the Krom Moerasje, little crooked swamp

My kingdom for a key

Because it’s beautiful

And private

I put my phone through the fence to grab that shot

Hope I don’t get a fine from the Gramercy Park Association

But, from basically Canal Street, t’was a hike

Glad the weather was perfect

My AirPods played playlists of music from high school

Lots of music from high school

Had to get my mind right for people who have known me for over thirty years

Earlier in the day, I had seen one of those meeting us at the hotel

Hadn’t changed a bit

As I walked through Union Square, I received a text from him

“Will be a minute or two late”

Another text from our organizer, “Running a little late, getting on the train in BK”

Another text from another friend, “Where are you?”

So, we all met up and visited and laughed and laughed and commiserated and laughed and told stories and laughed and laughed some more

I love these people

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Shoes weren’t all that were lit

 

They say they love me

I pay them handsomely

We pick up right where we left off every time

But we never really leave off

We never do

It’s great to be connected

Our myriad conversations shan’t be repeated here

Two members of the class behind ours joined us, too

We lived in the same dorm

Love them almost as much as my own classmates

They had to get to Brooklyn for Peter Hook’s concert

New Order indeed

As the clocked ticked and the sky darkened, I checked my watch

I had to be on East End Ave by 6:30

No way I was making that

In addition to the two heading to see Mr. Hook, there were others who had to go to the next event

What the City doesn’t sleep when I arrive?

One of us had to go on back to BK

One of us had to be at another party

One of us had to be in the same neighborhood as the Mayor whom they all despise

The rest were going out to supper

Finally, the time came

“Want to meet us later?”

“I don’t want you to leave”

“Can’t we keep you here?”

“Let’s go”

“Let’s go, then”

“And, yet they do not move”

“Isn’t that Waiting for Godot or something?”

“Ham, you’re gonna be late”

“I know, but it’s o.k.”

“Know where you’re going?”

“Sure, 23rd street to the 6 then up to 86th street, then walk on over to East End”

“You got it”

“Need a Metrocard?”

“I have one”

“You’re not a tourist”

“I am such a tourist”

“You hate SoHo; you’re not a tourist”

“You’re going to a party on East End Avenue; you’re not a tourist”

“Trust me; I’m a tourist”

So, we hugged

I hugged them all

Men and women

Equally loved

I walked downstairs and then out into the cooling New York evening and over to the station

As I swiped my Metrocard, I thought, “Damn, I love those people”

As I switched the Spotify station to a lengthy playlist of a certain nostalgic band, I began to cry

Really cry

Like crazy cry

Just full on blubbering

Right there beneath 23rd St

Runny nose crying

Glad I have a handkerchief crying

Crying through the rushing wind and squealing brakes as the 6 pulled into the station

I really stepped on the train heaving

As I held the metal pole held by countless riders, no one paid me one wit of attention

Oh, look, crazy dude crying on the 6

After

All

It

Is

New

York

About the time we rolled into the 51st station, a nice lady standing next to me put her hand on my arm

I took out my AirPods

She said in a lilting Islands accent, “You o.k., Sir?”

She had on medical scrubs

“No, Ma’am. I just left a group of people whom I adore and who adore me. I don’t get to see them enough. It hurts me to leave them.”

“Well, that’s a gift from Him,” she said as she pointed to the sky

More tears at that

Before she got off at the Hunter College Station, she stop and turned, patted me on the arm and said , “Well, good luck. Be glad you have friends.”

“Thank you,” I said. “You have no idea how glad I am”

By the time I got to 86th Street, at least I had stopped shaking

As I walked the five blocks toward the river, I started to smile and giggle at our conversations

They are all wicked smart

And funny

By the time I got to East End Avenue, I was fine

By the time I walked into the party, only my Guardian Angel on the train and I knew about my emotional outburst

She probably thought I was another tourist who had lost his mind in the City

The next day, I heard from another New Yorker classmate who now lives Upstate who said she would have come into the City had she known we were all gonna be together

Ooops

I told her about my crying on the train

Her reply, “Yep. We’ve all cried on the 6 before”

Get Behind Me, Satan

Arriving at my favorite garden store some twenty minutes before they opened, I had no choice but to proceed to the nearest Bojangles for a biscuit and some coffee

Had to

Duty bound

What else would I do early on a Saturday morning?

If you’re not familiar with Bojangles, then, well, you’re obviously not from this part of the world

In the Bo Zone

Bojangles Chicken & Biscuits

Based out of of Charlotte, North Carolina

A Southeastern Staple

It’s Bo Time ™️

Highly recognizable branding

Yellows

Reds

Their biscuits are handmade every day

Magazines have published odes to them

Cajun Filet Biscuits have comforted many a hungover patron with buttermilk and flour and fat and thinly fried chicken breast dipped in hot sauce

Their coffee’s pretty great, too

On the morning in question, I had time to kill, so I went inside to place my order

The lady behind the counter precioused herself to me prior to my turn at the register

As the customer ahead of me finished his order she said, “Well, that’s $13.14. That’s fun to say, idn’t it? Thirteen, fourteen”

I thought so

The patron ahead of me didn’t respond

He smiled wanly

“It’ll be ready in a jif, dahlin,” she said to him

I smiled as I stepped up to the register

“May I please have a sausage and egg biscuit and a large coffee?”

“Oh, I love your manners! And, of course you can, dahlin,” she said

Smiling still, she said, “Well that will be Six dollars and Sixty Six…oh..no..no…no..no…no…no.”

Her countenance changed

Furrowed brown

Worried concern

“Dahlin, I am NOT making change with Satan’s number. I am sanctified. Can you order something else?”

She was not joking

Her eyes were wild with fear

Wild

Knowingly, I replied, “Well, get behind me, Satan. Let’s start over then”

“Now we’re talking, dahlin” she replied. “Now we’re talking!”

She all but high fived me

Too blessed to add to her stress

Should always stick with the Cajun filet and not be led astray by the serpent

Because, much like my new friend at Bojangles, I am not making change with the devil’s number

Digging It

 

In honor and memory of my neighbor Don Jones, who loved to work in his own plot of land

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Green is a color, especially in early spring

In a most tricked out 1970’s color scheme – harvest golds, burnt oranges, avocado greens – a cross stitched saying hung in my maternal grandparents’ hallway leading to the bedrooms

My mother had cross stitched the saying, had framed it, and had presented it to my grandparents, who, at the time, were pretty great gardeners.

Who plants the seed beneath the sod and waits to see believes in God. Anon.

Faith in its truest form

Nathan, whose last name I know not, helped them weekly. He was a wizard in the garden

Really, I never knew Nathan’s last name. Still don’t. He worked for my grandparents, my great aunt and uncle, and some of their friends

Nathan knew how to turn a spade

Green thumbs on both hands

On both sides of my family, I come from a long line of amateur tillers of soil who love to get their hands dirty, who love to see the flowers blossom, who love to see the bulbs produce, who love to plant

I think my European antecedents were all peasants, vassals, serfs, no matter what the family histories may say

I love to work in the dirt

For me, it is a matter of faith to plant, till, sow, hoe, harvest

God put Adam and Eve in a Garden

Jesus is the Vine; we are branches

My Great Grandmother Gladys Jones, who lived in Bishopville, South Carolina, had a garden with roses, daffodils, flox, Queen Anne’s lace, azaleas, spirea, tea olives, a beautiful bed of pink oxalis in front of her porch. Old timey plants

She knew her stuff

On a visit to our house in Beaufort, she turned to my father, her grandson, whom she adored and said, “George, I see you have a wisteria. Hmmmm”

The wisteria came out

My great aunt and uncle Kemp and Rachel Kempson had a beautiful garden with foxgloves.  Aunt Rachel kept egg shells in water to provide calcium to certain plants

My great aunt and uncle Bob and Laura Thomas trained smilax to grow in what were essentially hanging baskets on the side of their piazza in Ridgeway, South Carolina

My maternal grandfather grew amazing tomatoes every year

Bumper crops year after year

He had the touch

My maternal grandmother nourished a flowering quince whose original progenitor was from her grandparents’ home in Virginia

My father is still nourishing a portion of that quince today

She also tended well her myriad camellias

If anyone knows where I can find an Irene Coker variegated red and white bloomer, let me know

I like to think I have inherited the green thumb

Nothing makes me happier than working in our garden

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You should have seen it last week

It’s small

It’s urban

It’s become a Charleston style garden after some 15 years of work

T. Hunter McEaddy designed it for us

Landscape Architect that he is

I grew up watching my parents plant and tend, mow and rake, water and fertilize

Same with all of their neighbors

I swear Beaufort was filled with gardeners, and with helpers in those gardens

African American men who knew how to do

Jack Haynes

Sam Cole

And, again, men whom we addressed only by their first names: Arthur, Julius, Willie

Not appropriate, but it was the time in which I was reared

Jack Haynes helped my parents from time to time and other families around Beaufort

He was a bird

One Saturday as Jack Haynes was helping my father with some yard project, my father broached the subject of another family Mr. Haynes helped on weekends

“Jack,” he called, “you think Miz So-and-So is a little crazy?”

“Crazy?” he asked, “Crazy as shit!”

We have never forgotten that in my family

Crazy as shit

She was. But she was smart enough to hire Jack Haynes to help out in her yard

I like to think I paid attention to the Jack Haynes of the world

Additionally, I love reading books about plants and gardening

Latin names really help in learning about a plant and how to care for it

Those names are in gardening books, too

Books such as

The Gardens at Hatfield by the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury

Penelope Hobhouse on Gardening by Penelope Hobhouse

Obvs

Gardens of Historic Charleston by James R. Cothran

The Charleston Gardener by Louisa Pringle Cameron

No amount of reading substitutes for doing, though

I can gauge the seasons by what I’m doing in the garden

Those of us who are diggers in the dirt are always looking at least two months ahead

Did I put the aluminum sulfate around the hydrangeas soon enough?

Did I add the Hollytone to the Meyer Lemon in time for there to be fruit?

Did I order the paper white bulbs?

Did I order the caladium bulbs?

Did I put the basil in enough sun?

Did I take out too much of the aspidistra?

Did I trim the all the suckers off the limbs of the crepe myrtles?

Did I dig out the lemon balm after it got too leggy?

I don’t want to over plant

A well-known gardener was once quoted as saying she had a fine garden, then she filled it with plants

Accordingly, I only make two annual pilgrimages to Hyam’s Garden Center on James Island

It is my Mecca

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Delphiniums don’t last; nothing does

 

One trip to Hyam’s in mid-October

One trip to Hyam’s in mid-April

For the annuals

The pops of color

I will over plant a pot

Crowd it out

With flowers and greens and seasonal herbs

In October, it’s for pansies, violas, sweet alyssum, stock, foxgloves, delphiniums, snapdragons, parsley, rosemary, potting soil

In April, it’s for periwinkles, pintas, gomphrena, purple shield, million bells, basil, mint, oregano, cilantro, coleus, potting soil

The rotation changes

But not much

I plant 100 caladium bulbs in late April

All the same color of green and white

White Christmas

Every year

I hate change

I live in Charleston

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High bright shade

 

I plant 40 or so daffodil bulbs in October

I am tending a Pink Perfection camellia that came from a cutting from my grandmother’s house in Camden, South Carolina

It’s taken about seven years to be almost two feet tall

I planted another camellia last year

That kind green bud

There are accidental problems in any garden

And in any life

Lambs ears burn up in our heat

Lavender plants, too

Even plants with full sun directions can use a little shade in our subtropical tending to tropical Zone 8

But, there are wonderful surprises in any garden

And in any life

For example, that Wandering Jew taken from a cutting from my in-laws has really taken over in that back corner

Its purple haired beauty spilled from the confines of its clay container and made a run for it, sprouting and colonizing all over

It will take over

We have had two trees taken out of our yard due to two named storms

More sunlight than ever

The grass actually grows

It’s a lot brighter

The yews we planted love it

Yew would, too

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I am the grass

 

I may move my plumbago to give it more sun

The morning glory I run along our back fence every year adores the additional light

So, what’s your story, morning glory? I’m writing this one

Around Mother’s Day, our fence and arch are covered in Confederate jasmine that perfumes the whole yard

The most heady of smells

Around Hallowe’en, the two tea olives by the front porch perfume the whole yard

The most ephemeral of smells

 

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Latch strings on the outside

 

 

I love to weed

I love to be covered in dirt

I love to sweat through the dirt

I love to cut back

I love to trim

I love to prune

I love to spread pine straw

It hides a myriad of sins

I love stand with the hose and water, air pods in place, music going

That cold beer at the end of a full day of yard work tastes so damned good

As the seasons change, it will be time to get to work in the yard

This year, I’m letting two planters become incubators for monkey grass with which I will eventually line a bed

I think I will cut back the hyndrangeas as they are getting kind of leggy

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Aluminum sulfate works

 

 

But what to put in those planters by the gate?

That’s the best part of being a digger of the dirt

Creativity

Following in the steps of the Old Master

Having a little faith