Charming Gardeners©

Charming Gardeners©

Averyell A. Kessler

For my friend Susan, a charming gardener.

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” Marcel Proust. ‘

I wasn’t sipping tea with Mr. Proust  or nibbling his famous madeleines, but one of his quotes appeared in my thoughts and waved like a long-lost friend.  It was pounded into my brain by a college English professor extolling the brilliance of Swan’s Way. I was distracted, wondering how many minutes would pass before I’d burst out of Allen Hall and plunge into Baton Rouge’s Friday afternoon madness. Somehow it stuck.

I acquired my charming gardeners a long time ago. I was four when I met Martha as she peeked through a thick hedge separating my Belhaven house on Laurel from hers on St. Mary Street. She was a mature child of five. At first, she scared me because I was an only child with a hyper protective mother and hadn’t been around many other children. I ran, but Martha was persistent. She squeezed through the hedge, knocked on our back door, and handed me a bright yellow dandelion.  That started it all. Together we played hopscotch and jacks, made cookies from mud mixed with modeling clay, raised a box turtle, sang The Ballad of Davy Crocket, and smoked bubble gum cigars. We tormented our parents by pounding out boisterous versions of Chopsticks and Heart and Soul on an old upright piano.  We released Pretty Boy, her parakeet, and allowed him to fly around her house, scattering seeds, dropping feathers and other unwelcome blessings. When Martha started school a year ahead of me, I was devastated.  

The next year I discovered new friends at Power School. We met while learning Dick and Jane’s simple words, scrawling letters on lined manila paper tablets, and hoping for an array of multicolored stick-on stars. Run, Spot, run. Recess was a time to see who’d lost another tooth, re-tie our saddle shoes, and debate the existence of Santa Claus. Margaret had a big family, a yapping chihuahua, and the best roller-skating sidewalk in Belhaven. Helen had a huge yard, two cocker spaniels, and a towering view of the railroad track edging Belhaven.  Fortunately, she had a penchant for Krystal hamburgers and Shoney’s strawberry pie.  Alice lived directly adjacent to Belhaven lake, an instantaneous adventure. We were intensely jealous of Aimee because she broke her arm, as well as her back, and we were able to sign her cast and her autograph hound at the same time.

We grew up together, as neophytes teetering in mini heels, carefully painting on lipstick and twisting our hair into pink foam rollers.  We tried on Bobby Brooks’ latest in Sudie’s dressing rooms and struggled through a major redo of our bodies as well as our underwear. Nobody really needed a panty girdle, but it was the only way to keep our stockings up.  We dealt with a first kiss under a blazing porch light, endured a ruthless French teacher, and tried to decide if Elvis was cuter than Ricky Nelson. We were comrades in arms, battling teenage insecurity and  shedding the skin of childhood. We stepped into the future holding hands.  

I had a sole male friend during those growing up years. Our mothers were friends, so we were too. Because of Patrick, I once spent a long night in tears and wondering what was wrong with me.  We were splashing in his tiny back yard pool floating on water rings and frantically squirting water guns at each other. When our mothers weren’t looking, we tossed off our suits and continued playing as though nothing unusual had happened. Our mothers were horrified when they spotted our bare bottoms.  Neither had ventured into a nudist camp; bikinis and hippies had not yet appeared. We were redressed in a flash. That night at bedtime, Mama noticed a few tears on my cheeks and asked what was wrong. “Patrick can squirt into the bushes all by himself!” I wailed. “I can’t.”  Thanks, my friend, for inspiring my first foray into sex education.

Charming gardeners are a rare and valuable commodity. They love without condition and stick around when good fortune takes a dive. When they ask “how are you” they really want to know. They are an investment in authenticity. My gardeners are still my friends, they always have been.  I call them the Power School Gang. Not sure they appreciate it because we haven’t formed a rock band or robbed a bank. We all remember the names of our second-grade teachers, who dropped a tray in the cafeteria, and know the difference between Pinehurst Street and Poplar Boulevard.  We can still work up a giggle at lunch and laugh about a long-ago adventure. Without a doubt they are charming  gardeners who helped an only child blossom.  As my furry literary buddy said, “A friend is someone who helps you up when you’re down, and if they can’t, they lay down beside you and listen.”*

*Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne

Averyell A. Kessler

For my friend Susan, a charming gardener.

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” Marcel Proust. ‘

I wasn’t sipping tea with Mr. Proust  or nibbling his famous madeleines, but one of his quotes appeared in my thoughts and waved like a long-lost friend.  It was pounded into my brain by a college English professor extolling the brilliance of Swan’s Way. I was distracted, wondering how many minutes would pass before I’d burst out of Allen Hall and plunge into Baton Rouge’s Friday afternoon madness. Somehow it stuck.

I acquired my charming gardeners a long time ago. I was four when I met Martha as she peeked through a thick hedge separating my Belhaven house on Laurel from hers on St. Mary Street. She was a mature child of five. At first, she scared me because I was an only child with a hyper protective mother and hadn’t been around many other children. I ran, but Martha was persistent. She squeezed through the hedge, knocked on our back door, and handed me a bright yellow dandelion.  That started it all. Together we played hopscotch and jacks, made cookies from mud mixed with modeling clay, raised a box turtle, sang The Ballad of Davy Crocket, and smoked bubble gum cigars. We tormented our parents by pounding out boisterous versions of Chopsticks and Heart and Soul on an old upright piano.  We released Pretty Boy, her parakeet, and allowed him to fly around her house, scattering seeds, dropping feathers and other unwelcome blessings. When Martha started school a year ahead of me, I was devastated.  

The next year I discovered new friends at Power School. We met while learning Dick and Jane’s simple words, scrawling letters on lined manila paper tablets, and hoping for an array of multicolored stick-on stars. Run, Spot, run. Recess was a time to see who’d lost another tooth, re-tie our saddle shoes, and debate the existence of Santa Claus. Margaret had a big family, a yapping chihuahua, and the best roller-skating sidewalk in Belhaven. Helen had a huge yard, two cocker spaniels, and a towering view of the railroad track edging Belhaven.  Fortunately, she had a penchant for Krystal hamburgers and Shoney’s strawberry pie.  Alice lived directly adjacent to Belhaven lake, an instantaneous adventure. We were intensely jealous of Aimee because she broke her arm, as well as her back, and we were able to sign her cast and her autograph hound at the same time.

We grew up together, as neophytes teetering in mini heels, carefully painting on lipstick and twisting our hair into pink foam rollers.  We tried on Bobby Brooks’ latest in Sudie’s dressing rooms and struggled through a major redo of our bodies as well as our underwear. Nobody really needed a panty girdle, but it was the only way to keep our stockings up.  We dealt with a first kiss under a blazing porch light, endured a ruthless French teacher, and tried to decide if Elvis was cuter than Ricky Nelson. We were comrades in arms, battling teenage insecurity and  shedding the skin of childhood. We stepped into the future holding hands.  

I had a sole male friend during those growing up years. Our mothers were friends, so we were too. Because of Patrick, I once spent a long night in tears and wondering what was wrong with me.  We were splashing in his tiny back yard pool floating on water rings and frantically squirting water guns at each other. When our mothers weren’t looking, we tossed off our suits and continued playing as though nothing unusual had happened. Our mothers were horrified when they spotted our bare bottoms.  Neither had ventured into a nudist camp; bikinis and hippies had not yet appeared. We were redressed in a flash. That night at bedtime, Mama noticed a few tears on my cheeks and asked what was wrong. “Patrick can squirt into the bushes all by himself!” I wailed. “I can’t.”  Thanks, my friend, for inspiring my first foray into sex education.

Charming gardeners are a rare and valuable commodity. They love without condition and stick around when good fortune takes a dive. When they ask “how are you” they really want to know. They are an investment in authenticity. My gardeners are still my friends, they always have been.  I call them the Power School Gang. Not sure they appreciate it because we haven’t formed a rock band or robbed a bank. We all remember the names of our second-grade teachers, who dropped a tray in the cafeteria, and know the difference between Pinehurst Street and Poplar Boulevard.  We can still work up a giggle at lunch and laugh about a long-ago adventure. Without a doubt they are charming  gardeners who helped an only child blossom.  As my furry literary buddy said, “A friend is someone who helps you up when you’re down, and if they can’t, they lay down beside you and listen.”*

*Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne

4 thoughts on “Charming Gardeners©

  1. This is one of your very best. Your “stories” take me to places I’ve ling forgotten. And that a good thing because it makes me smile and sometimes laugh out loud. It’s also good because those who hear me are then totally convinced I’m a little off my rocker. I do like to rock. Thank you fir your friendship and your talent.

    Like

  2. I love the way you remember certain landmarks in Jackson and refer to them when the moment requires authenticity. I had forgotten all about Sudies but when I read this installment, I was transported to another time and place. Your glorious stories often do that to me and I Love it so much. Thank you for sharing your extraordinary gift of story telling with those of us who have forgotten things over the past 60+ years.

    Like

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