Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


They’re called Annabelle Hydrangeas. I didn’t know, so I had to look ‘em up, even though we’ve lived with them for 25 years. Our entire south side is annabelles, and, as you can see, they’re in their prime as we speak, the heads on those flowers as big as a buffalo’s (a bit of a stretch). Really, roll up three of those huge blossoms and you could build a snowman, mid-July.

A friend of ours who grew up out East in the neighborhood of a slum claimed that in her own racist girlhood (she’s white and all of that is behind her), people she knew used to call them “ghetto roses,” because, she said, hydrangeas were so hearty they’d burst forth in beauty even in some blighted inner city.

The only thing I do is chop down stalks in late fall, and they come back like gangbusters year after year after year. Right now, the blossoms are albaster bowling balls. But the truth is, we hardly look at them at all.

Why? Because they take very, very little care. You don’t have to whisper sweet nothings or anoint them with some punchy organic perfumes. Unlike the peonies on the other side of the yard, the annabelles never have bad years. They’re as dutiful as they are beautiful.

They do just fine all by their lonesome. They don’t need us. Maybe that’s it.

Like our car. Our previous cross-country bus was a massive Olds Aurora. While neither of those brand names have any descendents these days, for some blessed reason, we loved that car. Honestly, I don’t know why.

Now we’ve got a big boat Park Avenue Buick. It rides like a dream, gets wonderful mileage for a yacht, and hasn’t had a thing wrong with it for years. Nothing big anyway. We ought to love it, but it’s boring, a yawner, the car every last retired couple in the county would buy if we had it on the market. The thing is, we got it at bargain basement prices—or less--when my mother determined that her driving days were over. We didn’t earn the Buick; it was something of a gift (which is not to say it was free). Besides, it came with a humongous gash where my mother had whacked some truck, which prompted her resignation from the wheel.

Our tomato plants are threatening the whole backyard it seems, which means we ought to have a madcap harvest, despite the fact that we’ve only got four plants. I’ve watered the tomatoes, fertilized them, put them in neat wire stanchions because they needed support. They’ve been treated like queens. And you want to know what else?—there’s not a tomato on the market that tastes are good as the ones we grow ourselves. That good. We nursed 'em. We love 'em.

Kids get the urge young—or maybe that’s simply because I live with so many Calvinists. “Me do it,” they’ll say long before their thumbs come out of their snoots. “Me do it”—we want to achieve, most of us at least. We want to do it ourselves, and when we do, we love it.

In Frederick Manfred’s odd novel about the 1862 Sioux Uprising in Minnesota, Scarlet Plume, a woman taken captive by the Yankton Sioux cannot believe what she’s seeing when the Sioux practice “a giveaway,” a self-less ritual (it was actually banned by good Christian white people) in which people literally gave away all those things most important to them. No, not the stuff that goes to Goodwill, but those possessions most treasured. Her culture, she knows, deeply Christian, practices absolutely nothing like it.

It may well be an underlying principle of American capitalism. I've got sweat equity in those lovely tomatoes, but those huge white annabelles are “ghetto roses.”

We love what we do. And that’s truly as wonderful as it is pathetic. Because we love it, we fence it up. Because we earned it, we think everyone else should too, even though we’re not all the same. Because we did it ourselves, we think whatever it is is ours. I do anyway.

Consider the annabelle hydrangea.

That’s what I was thinking today when trimming back the bushes. Honestly, they’re gorgeous, but who really cares? Doesn’t take a genius to grow ‘em, not even a green thumb.

The heck with the lilies of the field—there aren’t any anyway. Consider the annabelles, I’m thinking.

Today there’s a few in a vase on the dining room table. We’ve got dozens. They’re drop dead gorgeous--and if you've got ears, they even preach a little.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love hydrangeas. I'm in town this week to teach a class at Dordt. I'm going to ramble by your house some day after class and check out the garden, maybe pilfer a tomato or two.
Kathleen VanTol