I have a flower bed of peonies at my house. You might say these peonies are a special variety. They have been passed down from one generation to the next. Most were nurtured and cared for by my wife, Kathy’s, maternal grandmother, Gladys Keene Bratton.
She handed them down to Kathy’s mother, Sue Bratton Oakley. Some were handed down to Kathy by her aunt, Mary Tucker Bratton. And now these peonies belong to Kathy.
Our son, J. Brim and his wife, Emily, were responsible for the peonies for a couple of years. Now, I have the peony detail.
My father-in-law, Budgie Oakley, has become my peony consultant. The keeping of peonies is rather straightforward and simple — cow manure in the late fall or early spring, weed and mulch.
I got a late start on the cow-manuring this spring. I say a late start … actually, I weeded between the peonies and the rock wall that lines our driveway and shoveled in a nice ridge of manure the first week in March. The next week, I got started on pulling the manure in around each hill of peonies and finishing the weeding.
Did I share about the size of the flower bed? I stepped it off one day. It is 75 feet long and 3 feet wide. There are 38 separate hills in the bed.
I found the weeding to be slow going. As a matter of fact, I tackled the job on two different mornings and two different afternoons. When I was a younger man, I would have done the weeding job by standing and bending from my waist, but, lo, those days are far behind me. This was a job to be done on one’s hands and knees. Fortunately, the ground beneath me was soft.
On the morning of my final assault on the weeds, I took note as my neighbor’s yard man was mowing the grass. We cordially waved a couple of times as he made his rounds just beyond our driveway. On one pass with the mower, he came to a stop and cut off the engine.
“Seeing you down on your hands and knees in that flower bed reminds me of when my daddy use to make us weed the plant bed,” he said as he grinned broadly.
I responded, “I know exactly what you are talking about. I’ve weeded a plant bed many a time myself.”
He continued, “My daddy would say, ‘Now, watch where you’re stepping.’ ”
I could tell he was lost in a good memory.
“ ‘If you really want to remember how it was, I will swap jobs with you and let you weed while I mow,’ ” I offered.
He smiled, restarted the engine on his mower and rode away.
Weeding a plant bed ... that phrase took me on a stroll down the halls of my memory, and I recalled with great fondness the loving care my father applied to every crop of tobacco he ever raised.
It began in late winter of each year when he was the first in our community of tobacco farmers to prepare his tobacco plant beds. Of course, by starting so early, he risked the possible dangers of late frosts. But he was determined. He hovered over his plant beds like a mother hen would hover over her chicks.
I remember watching as he anguished over the possibility of a killing frost late in the spring. Sometimes, he would double, or even triple, the canvas. He may have even covered the beds with straw a time or two. And, yes, because I knew him well, I can guarantee he prayed over those plant beds. Whatever it took to save those tender plants, he was willing to do. And they responded to his loving attention.
During my four-phase effort to cultivate and weed our peonies, I noticed on the next day the plants I had most recently worked had taken a significant leap forward. I was almost as if they recognized I had been there.
And I was reminded almost everything responds to loving attention. That includes peonies, and tobacco plants, and growing boys and girls, and wives and husbands, and … well, the list goes on and on.
Copyright 2021 by Jack McCall