The knees of my jeans are caked in mud. There might even be mud in my hair where I’ve reached up to tuck it behind my ear. It’s under my fingernails and in the creases of skin around my knuckles. I am in heaven. Not because of the mud, but because there is nothing I love quite like planting annuals.
These little baby begonias have just a few waxy leaves now, and they may look a little sparse as I set them a trowel-length apart across my flower bed, but they represent hope. By mid-July they will form a complete border — six inches high and getting all up in each other’s business.
My knees squish into the wet grass as I crawl along; we’ve had so much rain lately. High above my head a robin is calling out to me — “telling the news” my dad would say. Perhaps he is congratulating me on finally getting out here to plant flowers. Or perhaps he is thanking me for the wriggly worms that are sure to come to the service with me digging around. But actually, to me it sounds like he is tattling: “He drank…he drank…he drank beer.” A few more little trills: “Anyway, anyway, he drank beer.”
I chuckle out loud. My mind travels back to my teaching days when tattling first-graders on the playground would run up to me, trying to keep straight faces. “Mrs. Rood, Jason put ants in my pants and made me dance.” Then they would run off, unable to contain the giggles. A few minutes later they were back. “Mrs. Rood, Ashley put rocks in my socks and gave me chicken pox.”
And then there was the time a child came to me in all sincerity and proclaimed, “Katie says she’s going to tattle on me.”
The Robin goes on gossiping to all the neighborhood birds.
As I gently pull a plant from it’s little plastic package, the crinkling sound tattles too. It reminds me of something that someone did yesterday. And I’m going to tattle as well. Only, this was nothing naughty. This was a good deed.
My husband and I had gone up to Lowe’s in Burlington. He was shopping for a new motion-detector light for our garage. I wanted to buy annuals. So while he was in the other part of the store, I pushed the cart through the garden center, resting my cane inside the cart, looking for healthy begonias. Sure enough, I found a whole section of them, and pored over them until I found the best looking pack. But I couldn’t pull it loose from the others. All of the plastic six-pack containers seemed to be connected to one another at their corners. I pulled harder. Suddenly, it came loose. Too quickly. In a split second my neuropathic fingers had lost their grip and it flew into the air and down to the cement floor. Oh dear. Dirt spilled out from around the beautiful leaves, which were now face down and probably broken. I wasn’t sure I had the balance required in my legs to bend down and pick it up. I decided to leave it there and choose another six-pack. I tried to pull more gently this time. It was also stuck to the other packs at the corners. I got one corner loose, but then — whoops. Down to the floor. Next to the other pack. I was making a mess.
And then, a courteous voice surprised me. “Let me get that for you.” A woman my age with graying hair was at my side. “Which one would you like?”
I looked up at this stranger’s kind eyes. “Well, I was hoping for three of the pink and three of the red.”
“Absolutely,” she said as she reached toward them. “How about this one? No, that has a plant missing. Hmmm…”
“Here’s a good one.” I pointed at one with healthy, round leaves.
“Oh yes. Boy, these are hard to get,” she commented as she struggled herself to snap them apart. She handed it to me, and then continued to help me shop until my cart contained the elect — carefully chosen packs of hopeful babies. “I just love begonias.” She said as I thanked her, and she walked on, as if nothing special had just happened.
But it was special to me, and I am grateful to her even now as I kneel here in the mud and dig a home for each of these little nurslings.
“Anyway, anyway, he drank beer.” The robin calls out to me. Silly robin. Tattle all you want to. “Anyway, anyway, she brang cheer.”