Saturday, October 10, 2009

Clipping Cattails

We moved to the country before I started second grade, abandoning our too-small house in an increasingly crime-ridden location for nearly 3 acres in a sleepy neighborhood bordered by several farms. We rode three wheelers and played baseball in our spare lot. We picked strawberries down the street and I walked to school every day until I finished eighth grade. Retrospectively, it was rather idyllic - my parents tried hard and I think they did a nice job.

For the most part.

We had driven by the same spot many times - it was part of Mom's daily commute. She had decided - as part of her 'goin' country!' decorating theme - that we required a jug o' cattails in the corner of our living room beside the giant picture of a barn by the lake that OlderCousin painted us. She had the container - an actual milk jug or butter churner or some such nonsense - and had painted the three-foot tall vessel a pale blue. It waited in the corner and my mother looked increasingly determined to fill it with "pretty" weeds.

I believe, at age 9 or so, that I had expressed my opinion of this plan. (Said opinion was not positive.) Brother was more encouraging, but at 5, who could blame him? (Though I'm sure I did.) So Mom stealthily hid garden tools in the back of the minivan and one day, instead of sighing longingly as we drove past the ditch that contained the coveted cattails, she pulled over.

"What are you doing?" I remember asking her, frowning darkly even as she grinned and hurried to the back of the vehicle. "Mother," I said warningly (for that's how I indicated I was serious), but she ignored me while Brother happily scampered from the back seat.

"Katie," she called in a moment. "If I clip them and hand them to Brother, then can you put them in the back of the van?"

"No," I replied promptly, pretending it wasn't happening as I stayed in the passenger seat, arms crossed and pout firmly in place.

"Katie," she tried again. "I'm not sure this is legal. If you help, perhaps your friends won't see us getting arrested."

"I can't believe you're breaking the law!" I gasped, but got out of the car to ferry cattails from Brother's hands to the back of the van.

"Be careful!" Mom called. "If you break them, I'm getting more!" I snapped that I was being careful and planning to tell Dad that she was leading us into a life of crime but she laughed and continued to attack the stems with her garden shears.

Van loaded and seatbelts fastened once again, we merged into sparse traffic and headed toward home. I remember looking at her, ready to complain bitterly again, and she giggled at me. So instead of whining about my mistreatment, I laughed too.

When Chienne and I wandered around the neighborhood in the pretty morning light, I stopped to grin at the cattails. Living in the country meant we spent a lot of time in the car together to reach civilization. The times I remember best were filled with teasing and laughter, and - as I age - the memories seem increasingly wonderful.

Given that I drive by this same spot on my daily commute, I fully expect to eventually find a spot for my own jug o' cattails. I'm equally confident that Mom and Brother would eagerly participate in a plan to acquire them.

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