Biff America: Tough love for a bad bush
“Don’t tell your father, but …”
More than a few conversations between my mother and me began with that reminder. Often it had to do with her indulging in some sort of extravagance or kindness – like paying full price for top sirloin, her grandson’s health insurance, or buying three-ply toilet paper.
I was a willing accomplice in my Mum’s deceptions. I derived great pleasure in pulling the wool over my old man’s eyes.
The longest running conspiracy involved the wisteria bush that crawled up the side of our house; my mother loved it unconditionally, while my father threatened to kill it every year.
If you are not from the East Coast, you might not be familiar with a wisteria. It is a bush/vine that can grow to more than 30 feet up the sides of buildings producing beautiful purple blossoms – at least that what well-behaved wisterias do. The wisteria at my family’s home was a wicked, nonblooming, weed from hell.
My parents planted it when they were newlyweds along the side of our garage. For several years, it would bloom beautifully in spring, and my mother would decorate the house with its abundant blossoms.
It wasn’t long after the birth of their sixth child (me) that the bush began to malfunction. Though it continued to grow like a weed, it was less forthcoming with blossoms and flowers; eventually, it stopped blooming all together.
Though not flowery, the bush had an uncanny ability to snake its way into holes, cracks or crevices, often splitting wood, entangling wires, damaging home and property.
Every spring I’d hold the ladder while my father would curse and cut away the branches that had grown under our shingles and entwined the phones lines. A few times, we had to climb into the crawl space in our attic and cut the twigs that had found a way through the shingles, insulation and drywall. Fortified with a few beers, my dad would mutter: “Someday I’m going to cut down this S.O.B. I don’t care what your mother says.”
Once I had reached my early teens, I would be charged with climbing the ladder and cutting back the vines. That was when I entered into a scheme with my mother – both of us determined to cause the bush to bloom; proving it worthy of love and life.
The two of us hemorrhaged money on Miracle-Grow, fertilizers and nitrogen pellets. We also tried egg shells, coffee grounds, and once she had me mix cow manure with hot water to make a sort of “dung-tea” to sprinkle on the roots. Despite our best efforts, the wisteria remained barren.
If my old man knew how much money was spent on that bush, he would have had a heart attack. (Actually, he did have one; I wonder if that was what caused it.)
Even after moving west, I’d return every spring, just before Mother’s Day, to fight for the life of the wisteria. By then my dad was too old to make good of his threat to cut down the bush, but he still promised to poison it. It was my yearly job to trim back the wandering branches and replace broken shingles.
Often as not, I’d be finishing up the task when my Mum would return from the nursery with a bag of optimism and say: “The man at the garden center he says this could help. It cost $15, so don’t tell your father.”
Nothing ever worked.
The last time I was home for Mother’s Day was about 10 years ago. We went to church and breakfast and returned home to await my brothers, sisters and families. The mood was much dampened by the fact that my mother was scheduled for a biopsy the next day; she had some spots on her lungs.
We all were scared but silent.
It was late in the day – everyone had left and my father was napping – when my mother took me out to the wisteria. She seemed to be tired and was walking unsteadily. I tried to take her arm, but she didn’t want help. I expected her to give me one of her latest potions but instead she said, “I want you to cut the roots.”
She had read somewhere that sometimes a plant needs tough-love. She asked me to take a spade, slice it down several inches and “shock” the roots around the bush. Supposedly that can remind the plant that it is time to get busy and bloom. As always, I did what she asked.
My Mum died before the month was over; she never saw the wisteria bloom again. But for years after her death it did; usually around Mother’s Day.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN, heard on KOA radio, and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com. Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com
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