Years ago, when I was a very small child, my parents bought a house in a beautiful suburb. The backyard was wild. There was no lawn at that time, but there were lots of rocks.
We climbed the trees that made up the boundary between our house and the ones on the road behind us. We built forts in the forsythia bushes. We loves that place that felt like the wild wilderness to my siblings and I.
But after a decade had gone by, and some of us were teens, my parents decided to put in a backyard pool. It was fabulous. It was heaven. It was the scene of some of my very best memories; my stout Uncle Mino going down the pool slide into a tube and getting his middle stuck. My Dad laughing so hard that he couldn’t even help. One of our best friends jumping into the pool after our wedding. In his groomsman’s white tux.
And memories of my children in that pool, safe in my Dad’s arms, my Mom watching carefully from one of the little umbrella tables. “Watch me, Grandma!!!” “Look at me, Grampa!”
If I close my eyes for only a second, I can hear those joyful cries.
I remember the image of my Nana one hot July afternoon. She was sitting on the diving board in her white cotton shorts. Her soft gray curls waved in the breeze. Three or four of her great grandchildren were perched on the board in front of her, closer to the deep end of the pool. All of them were talking, trying to keep her attention. She was laughing with joy. She was in her element.
And then the years went by. The babies grew. My mother and father got older.
After my father was diagnosed with melanoma, they realized that the pool was no longer a viable play space. Dad had to stay out of the sun.
So, with some sadness and a lot of planning, my parents turned the backyard pool area into a garden. A carefully planned, gracefully and artfully organized garden.
There were a couple of dwarf trees; a lilac and a Rose of Sharon each anchored one side of the walk that meanders through the garden space. There were boxwoods, a couple of holly plants, and some creeping phlox.
And there were roses. Gorgeous, glorious roses.
At first, they were enough to keep the garden a happy space. We still had the patio blocks and the white tables and umbrellas that used to go around the pool. The little white planters that Dad had built were filled every spring with pink geraniums.
And once again, as always, the years went by. In my innocence, I introduced some plants to that garden. Primroses, and tall phlox and Fox Tails.
They took over that lovely space. And it became something of a wild place. My sister’s addition of peonies vied for space with the Japanese Iris that I added one spring. Eventually, the upkeep of the now overgrown garden became too much for all of us put together.
We hired a landscaping crew.
They have been wonderful. They prune the hydrangea just enough to allow new growth. They cut back the gorgeous roses that want to take over the town. They mulch and weed and pull out the unwanted stray oaks and maples.
But a couple of days ago, my Mom and I went out to see the garden. Mom is getting increasingly fragile, and doesn’t venture outdoors all that often. I am a gardener at heart and desperately wanted to look at what the landscapers had done.
We walked around the yard, wrapped in sweaters against the cold. I named every shoot that I saw. “A daffodil!!! Your creeping phlox are greening up! I see the primroses!”
Then we came to a sapling. It had grown up in a spot that had originally held a little water spout. I’d seen the young gray sprout two years ago. I had cut it down, tried my best to dig out the roots, cut into every major taproot I could find. But it had come back last year.
I cut it down again, annoyed at it’s perseverance. I chopped the roots. I growled my displeasure. This was my PARENTS’ garden!!! It should be orderly, sweet, organized, pretty. I did my best to wipe out this pest.
But it grew up anyway. By midsummer of last year, I had given up. I thought that a little maple was coming up in the middle of the damn garden. I was. NOT. happy.
There I was, in the cold April sun, holding the arm of my 88 year old Mother. Looking into her early spring garden. We saw all of the good and well planned flowers coming up to greet us. We saw the buds on the carefully chosen dwarf trees.
And then we stood in front of the interloper who would not be denied.
“What is it?” Mom asked me. I looked up at the slender silver branches arching above us.
“Oh, my God,” I gasped. “Mom. It’s a pussy willow!”
A pussy willow.
One of my very first memories from our yard, so long ago. I remember them growing down by the shed my Dad built for his tools. I remember them in the space between our house and our neighbors.
I haven’t seen one in years.
And here it was.
A sweet, beautiful, sassy, badass, not to be denied pussy willow. Growing right in the middle of the carefully crafted garden. Growing in what used to be the deep end of the pool. Growing even though it had been cut, and pruned and smashed.
A pussy willow.
The best harbinger of spring. And a link to the childhood that I left behind so very long ago.