Biff America: Roots of tough love |

Biff America: Roots of tough love


She was an unattractive, homewrecking bush from hell, but my mother loved her.

As family legend has it, on the first Mother’s Day after my parents moved into their new home, my dad gave my mum a wisteria bush, which was about 3 feet tall. If my math is correct, I was about 3 or 4 when the bush went into the ground. In the early years, during late spring, it would bloom with beautiful purple flowers. The first time I remember my old man threatening to kill it, I was well out of high school.

When my parents were still around, I would travel home a few times a year to visit. While there, I would do chores that they were unable to do or too frugal to hire someone to do. Since I had/have no skills, the chores were confined to inexpert undertakings: cleaning the gutters, removing storm windows, raking and vehicle maintenance. They actually would have a list that they compiled during the months between my visits.

One item that never was put to paper, but would be whispered by my mum when my old man was out of earshot, was the latest havoc the wisteria bush had wreaked on the property. Literally, on every trip, I’d be on a 40-foot ladder cutting vines that had entangled phone lines or worked their way under shingles.

All this would have been tolerable to my father had the bush bloomed in recent memory. What was once a 6-foot high flowering plant morphed into a near 30-foot drab homewrecker.

Soon after arriving, I would cut back the branches and remove the seed pods clogging the gutters. Then my mother and I would head to a local nursery to purchase some elixir that she had read about in the gardening magazines. Some of them were store-bought while others were something out of the Farmer’s Almanac. I remember creating a soup of charcoal with Miracle-Gro, another of horse manure and worm compost and some stuff called “bloom explosion.”

This went on for several years to no avail. It seemed every time I’d visit, we would try a different potion or pruning. All this would have to be done on the sly because my dad’s solution was to “stop wasting our money and just cut the damn bush down.”

Nothing seemed to work — until it did.

For what was a yearly habit, I flew home a few days before Mother’s Day. The first thing I did, after the cab dropped me off, was to walk to the side of the house to check out the renegade bush. It was drab as dirt and had crawled under a few shingles.

After my mum fixed me a supper of my favorite meal (when I was 12), we stood next to each other while doing the dishes. She seemed to have aged many years in the five months since I saw her last.

“When we are done, there is something I want you to do to the wisteria bush,” she said. “There’s an ax in the garage.”

Walking out to the bush, my mum was unsteady on her feet. I had an ax in one hand and offered my arm. She brushed it away.

I thought she might have succumbed to my dad’s pressure or had lost faith in the bush, but she had something else in mind.

“Take the ax and cut into every root you can find,” she said.

My mother read in some gardening journal about something called “shocking the roots,” where you cut into the roots of bushes that won’t bloom, which can remind them to get busy.

“Don’t tell your father,” she added.

It is my profound hope that, in time, we will look back on this current pandemic as having shocked the roots of this nation. I certainly don’t wish to, in any way, minimize the suffering it has caused, but I hope that once it is behind us, it might lend some perspective and appreciation toward all that we missed while we were in its grips. Perhaps after almost a year of separation and isolation, when we finally can be close and touch one another, humanity will blossom.

Two days after Mother’s Day, I drove my mum to what she said was a minor outpatient procedure to biopsy a spot on her lung. In her typical stoicism, she had downplayed the severity. She died three weeks later while I held her hand.

I flew home a year later, on Father’s Day, to find that bush in full bloom.

Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at



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