Mid-May days of sparkling sunshine on tender grass...rosebuds popping open amid waist-high emerald ferns in the garden...a sojourn in the CrazyStable by a beloved and marvelous cousin...and laugh-packed kitten action. Is this house bipolar and on a manic high, or is it just me? For that matter, is it hot in here, or is it just me?
No, it's hot, gloriously sultry, and the house is reveling in it. Even now, I hear Spouse scrabbling up and down the staircase, exchanging humidifiers (employed to counter the dessicating effects of the Terrible Radiators of Winter) for fans. Lush woodland-scented breezes are pouring in from Prospect Park. Last week, when Beloved Cousin arrived, New York City contrived to offer up a buffet of weather choices, a bit too heavy on spring rain, but at least her first full day in town was perfect.
So what do you do with your few days in the Big Apple? If you are Beloved Cousin, you suggest that we get in some gardening. I suggest iced tea and a good sit; she is primed for action. Now, understand that BC is more than a decade my senior (we first met when she came East for a visit from her native Ohio as a fresh-faced teenager; in an old photo, she is holding ecstatic me, age 4, in her arms.) And BC is still recovering from a shattered ankle after a pre-dawn jogging mishap on the ice in Colorado, 2 big surgical scars on the shin, soaks it every night. The "pre-dawn/ice/jogging" thing is a tip-off to BC's character; she relates enthusiastically how she has been scooting around her own garden on some conveyance or other, planting her tomatoes, landscaping a berm, chopping down a pine tree...I am foolish enough to mention my plans for the "Garth," which involve eventually breaking up the cement pad with a sledgehammer. Hey, do you have a sledgehammer? We could start now! After I threaten to subdue BC with the sledgehammer, she contents herself with planting, mowing (using our colorful little push mower, which she accurately describes as looking like "Barbie's lawnmower"), and weeding the blazes out of everything.
The funny thing about all this is that I have been sinking deeper into a Garden Loneliness Pity Party lately...just little ol' me, struggling away out there...Spouse mows and offers to dig holes, Child flits about and occasionally plants something, but it's usually a solo act, haunted by a few ghosts. Garden Ghost #1, my mother, who would (before the walker/wheelchair days) offer to come out and "help," then quickly (and very noisily) retreat in either groaning agony from her sciatica or shrieking terror from an insect fly-by. (A dermatologic allergy type, she was convinced that, if stung, she would promptly die of anaphylactic shock. Just once, a bug did contrive to sting her, and she staggered inside bawling for someone to call 911 for an Epi-Pen; she was not amused when I told her that, if she had enough airway left to howl the words anaphylactic shock, she was not in it.) Post-fractured-hip, she would haul herself to a window and call out morosely, "I wish I could help you." [Dig, dig, dig...Don't worry about it, Mom.] "I do worry about it...Look at you, out there working so hard all alone." [Dig, scrape...Not alone enough, dear.] "What?" [Stab, dig, poke...NOTHING, MOM, IT...IS...JUST...FINE.]
Garden Ghost #2, far more benign, was dear friend Merian, an avid beach gardener (she even participated in the Burpee Test Garden program) who loved to sit outside and talk plants with me. Dainty little elf, she taught me the art of ruthless seedling-thinning, yanking out whole green tufts at a time. Towards the end, when she lived with us for one fragile summer just before emphysema claimed her as a prisoner, she perched on the grass and tweaked a few weeds within reach as I bitched about the house. Drawing a breath, she looked up at the raffish backside of the CrazyStable and said in her quick exhalation singsong, "Oh, it's a wonderful house." A decade later, I recall those words like a benediction.
And now, just in time to lift my spirits, here was Beloved Cousin playing "Gardening Barbies" with me! Suddenly my flaring arthritis didn't seem so bad, and I could hardly wait to start filling planter boxes and turning over earth. We worked easily side by side, quick and intuitive--Thyme, here? Yeah, sunny, good. It wasn't the first time BC has rescued me, either; remind me sometime to tell you about the time her visit to our Uncle Don's country place turned into a decontamination emergency thanks to a deceased chest freezer. (Have you ever seen liquid bacon? We have.) This was pure pleasure, though, and the energizing effects of that morning are still buoying me up. As our Uncle Don once said, after walking 20 Manhattan blocks with a crutch at age 93, "My legs work better because I'm so excited and fascinated!"
We did let BC do something in town besides our gardening...there was the graduation of her son, my Brilliant Cousin Once Removed, from Columbia with a newly minted architecture degree...we paid a visit to the New-York Historical Society to see amazing stuff on Tiffany lamps, Audubon birds, and the Civil War...and in DUMBO, we peeked at the renovated carousel (gorgeous), got gelato at Almondine, and were treated by BC to the frozen hot chocolate at Jacques Torres, a thick dark sexy/bittersweet slush-puppy that we slurped on the way to the airport. (Oh, did I mention that BC whipped up a fabulous Chinese dinner for the lot of us after a full day of sightseeing? Trying to keep members of her clan from preparing feasts--usually improvised, organic, elaborate ones--is like trying to keep border collies from herding behavior. Or as BCOR, who should know, said over the sound of his mother's brisk scallion-chopping, "Resistance is futile.")
In return, we could offer only our little blue-and-white third-floor guest room...and Charlie the Kitten, at large. Yes, he's technically still in quarantine, but the little shaver is so frantic for companionship that we had to start setting him free for short intervals with the Big Guys, Cocobop and Lexi. By now, he's free most of the day, just in his isolation room at night and for naps. Cocobop remains disgusted and diffident, but Lexi bloomed almost at once into a doting mother and wrestling partner. Here, just in time for Cat-Blogging Friday, is how it's been going:
Hmm, Hamster-Sized Thing (Me) vs Turkey-Sized Thing (Her)...no problem! A quick death-bite to the throat should do it...hey, Mom, do you have a throat under there? Can I call you Mom?
Ow...ow-ow-ow...who said anything the hell about having my ears washed?
Ha-ha! Try this one on, Big Girl--the four-footed chin-block! You are no match for me, Fur-Turkey...[clunk, sound of Hamster-Boy getting body-slammed to the mat]