From a distance, this house looks like your typical, vintage 50s brick rancher…
It’s only when you get a little closer that you realize something’s not quite right…To the left of the door, you have your predictable mid-Atlantic suburban landscaping: some Knockout Roses, an Azalea, and a Rhododendron. To the right of the house, the foundation planting scheme is far more unconventional:
Sure, azaleas and rhododendrons are nice…but can you eat them?
All of these plants (to the right, and the many squeezed into both side yards and burgeoning in overflowing beds in the backyard) will eventually make their way to the dinner table in some form or other.
As you may have guessed, the denizens of this house are not your average suburbanites. At least one of them, my mother, is not content with her own idiosyncratic planting schemes. She takes it upon herself to deal with her neighbor’s shrubbery too.
“See how nice this looks now? It’s because I prune it every day,” she says serenely as she breaks off branches from her neighbor’s shrub and secretes them deep into the foliage.
“Ummm, Mom? Should you really be messing around with other people’s plants?” I venture to say, casting a nervous glance over my shoulder.
“Why not?” she snaps. “The branches are in my way when I go for my walk. It annoys me. It looks much better this way…Did you just take a picture of me? Naughty girl!”
My children love visiting my parents’ house, where they are pampered, petted and allowed to freely loll about the basement all day long, playing board games and binge-watching the History Channel and Animal Planet. They look forward to the feasts that magically arrive at regular intervals. It’s a brave new world for my children, whose most exotic meals usually come from the frozen food section of Trader Joe’s.
Knowing how much my children, especially my second son, look forward to eating white rice, my mother never fails to cook up a pot for them. She does this despite the fact that my sister has proclaimed that the poor nutritional value of white rice makes it the equivalent of poison. (Never mind the fact that my sister herself always plies them with ice cream sundaes and sacks full of candy when they visit).
“Here’s your poison!” my mother announced with a flourish as she set the bowl of rice before my children, when were were visiting a couple of weekends ago.
As always happens when we visit my parents, self-control went out the window. My rice-loving son, who usually picks at his food like a bird, couldn’t stop gorging himself with the stuff. My mother watched him eat with her hands clasped over her heart. She loves nothing better than to watch people gobble up her food with relish.
After lunch, the children disappeared into the basement again. When I called them back up so that we could leave for a planned outing, my son came up the stairs, pale-faced and clutching his belly.
“I think I ate too much,” he groaned.
My mother called him over to sit by her on the couch. She took his hands in hers and began doing acupressure.
“I know you won’t let me do acupuncture on you,” she sighed, “but I know it would make you feel better.”
Have I mentioned that we sometimes call my mother a witch? Let me assure you that we say this with love and admiration. There’s something about that woman that allows her to get away with the most outrageous things. There’s something about that woman that makes people lose their minds, and go along with whatever she suggests, no matter how scary or preposterous it sounds.
Clearly under her spell, my son whimpered meekly, “You can do it, I guess.”
She practically clapped her hands in glee. She found her pincushion, a crazy looking do-it-yourself project she made a million years ago by stuffing a small container with her own hair and then covering it with cloth to resemble a whimsical hat. She whipped out a threaded needle from the pincushion and began methodically wiping it down with alcohol.
“HEY!” my sister shrieked indignantly, “You didn’t bother to sterilize the needle with alcohol when you did it to me the other day! You just rubbed the needle through your hair!”
My mother pretended not to hear her, though it’s very possible that the neighbors several blocks away may have.
She wrapped a string tightly around my son’s thumb and pierced the skin at the base of the nail to draw out blood.
“See how the blood is almost black? That shows you had really bad indigestion. Now let’s do the other side.”
She repeated the trick on the other hand.
“Do you feel better?” I asked him.
“Well,” he replied, “My stomach doesn’t hurt at all anymore. But my fingers are killing me!”
Later he perked up enough to ask me, “Have you called Dad yet to tell him that Grandma stabbed me and fed me poison?”