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Linda Beck column: Return to 'playing in the dirt' has been gratifying

I sure enjoyed playing in the dirt this summer. After my husband’s death in 1993 and my move to an apartment for nine years, gardening had become a thing of the past, another memory to put to rest.

Having a major multiple sclerosis exacerbation four months after I moved in to my new home kept me rather confined for the first three summers. Sitting on my front porch was about all I could do outside.

But this year, things got better. There is still a lot I can’t do but I continue to be amazed at how much I can do. Landscaping my yard has been a new adventure.

A friend was kind enough to till a long row across the back of the property. It is shady and cool there and I can ride along on my scooter, planting and weeding as I go.

Some friends have given me “starts” from their yards. Most of these are perennials that should come back next year. I have bought a few small plants but I also had several fairly large trees planted.

I’ve discovered I love vines and ornamental grasses so I have fixed four trellises of various vines, including yellow jasmine, a potato vine and a wisteria. My son-in-law and brother helped me put up the arbor I had wanted for so long and it has a Confederate jasmine growing on it. My brother says my yard is becoming a jungle, but I prefer to call it my personal little Hurley Park since I seldom get to go there.

I have found myself missing my husband the most in the past few months when I am working in my flowers. He always had such good ideas about landscaping and our last few years together were spent expanding our love for flowers into a part-time business.

With the help of our two daughters, we built a greenhouse and started potting and selling plants, especially caladiums. Now, once again, I have three different colors of those beautiful plants out in the shade at the back of the property.

All this has brought back so many memories of Joe and sometimes I find myself talking to him about how I should or should not do something.

One day I was telling the disability van driver about all this and said I sometimes wonder what Joe would think about how I’ve done my little yard. He said that even though he never knew my husband, he believes Joe would be very proud of me because my yard is so beautiful.

My grandsons and son-in-law have been good about doing the heavy work so I can do what I call playing. I fixed up a little potting station under a shade tree. My husband and I used to call our special place a “potting shed” because we built a tin roof over it so we could work out there even during summer evening showers. The only roof I have is the canopy of the tree.

I do need to figure some way to have a potting table built. Right now, I’m just using a cheap little plastic stool and the seat of an old yard chair. I decided I wanted to try potting a few azalea cuttings just to demonstrate for my grandsons how their Papa Joe and I used to propagate plants.

Well, the youngest one was too hot and wanted to go into the air conditioning to watch cartoons, but my 13-year-old was curious about how to “propaganda” plants (I realized he needs to learn some new words as well.)

Some readers may remember one of my first stories I wrote about him when he was only 4 I was trying to introduce him to pampas grass and somehow it became known as “Papa’s grass” because I told him how his grandfather loved that huge ornamental grass.

I had promised Billy I wouldn’t mention him by name anymore so his peers wouldn’t laugh at him. He said, “Nana, if you want to write about me, it’s OK. I don’t care if they laugh at me.”

Well, Billy and I had an interesting and educational time of rooting azaleas with root hormone. I hope I can keep them alive so he can see next year how much they will grow. We only had empty pots and room to do about six, but I enjoyed talking to him about how Papa Joe and I rooted, planted and sold hundreds of azaleas.

I shared my memories of how those gallon-sized azaleas are now as tall as we are. (Billy, the little baby that filled an empty place in my heart, is now as tall as I am now at 5 feet 6 inches.)

My grandchildren never knew their “Papa Joe” but I try to make him alive for them by sharing my memories. Joe would have loved teaching them about growing things.

The boys also want to learn to build things. If Joe were here, he would put them to work building a potting shed and the gazebo I always wanted. He would have taught them how to measure, using different types of saws and then how to hammer it all together.

I remember once when Woodleaf had a Tomato Festival and one contest was pounding nails into a piece of wood. There were different age groups, and both my daughters and I won at our level just as Joe did in the men’s division. He had taught his three favorite females how to “hammer like a man.” (Sometimes I wonder if all those years of pounding, hoeing and weeding are the reasons for my neck and shoulder problems now.)

Some folks have asked how I can stand to work in the yard now with my disabilities. I tell them I just grin and bear it, take two pain pills, use a heating pad and sleep away.

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