I remember my mother in phases, like the moon. My fondest and hardest memory is of her gardening.
I see her bent over into the flowerbeds; a scrunched up face tanned and freckled, she is planting tulips, perennials, and pansies. She is wearing white shorts and a blue tank top, a bit tattered and worn. These are her gardening clothes. Her sandals are comfy but still dainty with a floral texture and practical with velcro to keep her toes in. She is in the front yard with the big bay window, next to our umbrella tree that is shading parts of her back but not enough to keep the sun from burning and freckling her shoulders even more for the summer.
I’m on the lawn, sprawled out with a twig in my mouth and watching, as an ant crawls across my knee, down my leg, and onto the grass. I look up and see her wiping her forehead, collecting sweat from underneath her white, visor sun hat. She turns around to see me and asks what I’m doing.
“Just watching,” I say, smiling and rolling over onto my stomach.
“Want to come help me plant some marigolds?”
I shrug my shoulders and giggle, rolling over onto my back now and then, sitting up. I brush grass off myself and walk over to her. Kneeling down beside her, she hands me a small shovel and I dig into where the next flowers will go. She continues tending to the others, trimming carefully the nearby bushes and perfecting her annually prized garden. As we chat a little from time to time, she perfects my planting and twirls my hair in between her fingers. This soft texture was the same reason she always played with the silky, faded pink bow on my doll that I carried around. Both textures were calming and acted as reminders from her childhood.
I am a little older now, after that time next to the umbrella tree, when I see her outside gardening.
I see her sprawled out on the front lawn at night in front of our much smaller bay window. We live on a court and oftentimes it felt like we’re on a stage outside. Mother passed out and intoxicated on the front yard is a weekly show. If we came to collect her, she’d get mad and say she was just gardening. One time we dragged her in. Dad dragged her in and I would watch or lend my arm here and there. Usually she’d get up on her own, climb back through the laundry window as if nothing had happened.
Once in a while, she’d retreat to her old self. Midnight would roll around and the sun, already gone in but she’d go out there, sunglasses and a sunhat, barefoot. She’d walk around the side of the house and find the hose, turn it on, and water the plants.
“What are you doing?” Dad would ask, leaning his head out the front door.
“What does it look like?”
“It’s night time. Get inside.”
This would go on for a little while. Maybe she’d pick up the shovel and dig a little, move things around. But I remember her clearly holding the hose, watching the water through her sunglasses as it hit the plants; the moon’s phase reflecting off the puddles of water forming around the plants and bushes.