Field of Dreams

One of the most confusing things about my childhood was the endless series of contradictions that was and is my mother.  My mother was strict.  So strict we had to come inside when the street lights came on.  So strict that we had to walk home along the same route, every day, and straying from that path meant trouble, and in all likelihood, a whuppin’.  My sisters and I were not allowed to let other little girls play in our hair.  We had to sleep in bras from the moment the first breast buds made their awkward appearance.  There were more rules than any child could possibly remember, and the devil to pay if you broke any of them.

And yet, with Mama’s permission, our brothers smoked weed in the house, every day.

My parents converted our attic into a shared bedroom for my three brothers when puberty made the already infeasible — three boy children and three girl children in one bedroom — downright impossible.  We didn’t have air conditioning, so on hot summer days, my brothers would crouch to catch whatever breezes blew into the small windows of a hot attic, and blow smoke back out.  As I walked home from school, I smelled our house long before I got to it.  Once inside, the familiar smell wafted down the stairs and into the rest of the house, overpowering my mother’s more pleasant cooking aromas.  

My mother didn’t like it, but rationalized it this way:  “If they’re going to do it, I’d rather they do it in the house, rather than out in the street somewhere.” 

In The Street was a place my mother distrusted with all her heart.  I grew up thinking In The Street was actually a street where everything imaginable took place.  Of all the questionable streets in the City of Detroit, I never could figure out which street In The Street actually was.  When I was old enough to start going out by myself or with friends, I began to understand that In The Street was, for my mother, anyplace off our front lawn.

My brothers’ friends knew our house was the place to be when the time came to get your smoke on.  We lost track of how many guys came to our house every day, trudging through the house to the kitchen and up to the attic bedroom.  Even if they’d never been to our house before, they needed no directions; like dogs, they would track the scent straight through the house — past my father on the living room couch, watching Tiger baseball; past us girls in the dining room, talking on the phone or doing homework; past my mother cooking or washing dishes in the kitchen; and up the attic stairs to my brothers’ room. 

And, like dogs, sometimes they would get themselves in trouble by lingering just a bit too long, staring just a bit too hard at us girls as they made their pilgrimage.  The smart ones figured out how to sneak their looks as they walked past, or bought themselves some time by pretending to make small talk with my parents along the way.  The dumb ones just stopped and gawked.  The dumb ones generally weren’t repeat visitors.

Deliberately or by accident, marijuana seeds, tossed out of open attic windows, landed in the fruit and vegetable garden my mother kept, and still keeps, in our backyard. 

Like all the houses on our block, our house was a tiny structure on a relatively large lot.  The backyard lawn had been reduced to postage stamp size to make room for Mama’s garden, which extended along the two edges not occupied by house or driveway.  A peach tree just to the right of the back porch grew the peaches that went into her completely homemade peach pies (she refused to call them “cobblers”).  Along the fence that separated our property from the neighbors, she grew tomatoes and cucumbers.  Beyond the far edge of the lawn, Mama’s garden extended from the garage to the alley.  In this larger space grew collards, mustards, and broccoli.  Mama collected the rinds, peels, stems, skin and pulp of all the fruits and vegetables we ate, and every day, she scattered them throughout her garden.  Accordingly, the soil stayed rich and full of nutrients. 

As a child, I had no idea Mama’s garden kept us fed through UAW strikes, plant closings, and Daddy just being too trifling to come home with enough grocery money to feed two adults and six children.  I just figured that she, having grown up a farmer in Mississippi, was used to having fresh produce in her backyard and had chosen to carry on familiar traditions even after moving to Detroit.  

Sometimes, either my sister Caroletta or I would ask my mother if we could try growing something else in her garden, in addition to the staples she planted year after year.  When Mama was willing, we grew carrots, potatoes, strawberries, sweet corn and beets.  We planted the seeds experimentally, but nothing ever failed.   My mother’s garden was like our very own field of dreams — if you planted it, it would not only grow, but flourish.  (When I read Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, I kept imagining all the weird dead things that would come to life if planted in Mama’s garden.) 

It was no surprise to any of us how quickly the discarded marijuana seeds sprouted and grew in Mama’s garden.  My mother complained bitterly about the little plants that started popping up.  She was aware they were marijuana plants, but to her, they were literally weeds. 

For some reason, however, she took a liking to one plant and let it grow.  Before too long, we had a knee-high marijuana plant in our yard.

My brothers were amused at first.  They would go to the back door to see how big the plant had gotten, and then ask, “Ma, how long you gon’ let that grow?”

“I don’t know,” was always her response.

The plant grew bigger and bigger.  My brothers told her, “You know the cops could come after you if they saw that.”

“I’m not going to do anything with it,” she would counter, as if her lack of intent to sell or use the plant was dispositive.

My brothers argued constantly about whether or not the plant would actually yield any good smoke.  Michigan summers were too short, one brother opined.  Marijuana needed lots of sunlight to develop high levels of THC.  The weed wouldn’t be potent enough to be any good.  Yeah, the other brother would say, but that plant’s been growing in Mama’s garden.  You know how good that soil is.  And on and on the debate would rage.  It was their version of Batman v. Superman.

I liked the plant, and thought it was too bad it was illegal.  It was pretty.  It grew as well as the sweet corn we grew one year which yielded the sweetest, most tender ears of corn I have ever eaten.  I had no idea back then what good smoke actually meant, but in the ongoing debate, I silently took the side of the brother who voted in favor of Mama’s garden.  That soil was the truth. 

My neighbors were not amused by the new plant growing in Mama’s garden.  One neighbor constantly threatened to call the cops about the plant.  We took the threat seriously.  This was a neighbor who had “handicapped only” parking signs installed in front of her house — even though she wasn’t handicapped and didn’t have a car.  She would call the cops if anyone parked, or even left their car idling too long, in front of her house.

Every time this neighbor saw my mother in her garden, she would come to the fence and complain about the marijuana plant.  “That plant’s not bothering you,” my mother would say, dismissively.

Still, we were getting nervous.  As the plant approached the height of the back fence that separated our property from that of the bitchy neighbor’s, the possibility of police intervention became more real.  The plant was growing large enough to be visible from a distance.  If a police car happened to drive by and see a huge, well-tended marijuana plant growing in someone’s backyard, they were likely to stop and at least ask questions. 

My brothers — aware of their own upstairs stashes, and I suppose out of concern for my mother and our family as well — started trying to talk my mother into chopping down the plant.  It had gotten to a size where chopping would be required. 

My mother, by her dismissive remarks, clearly didn’t want to destroy the plant.  It had grown big, fast, proving yet again the superiority of her garden soil and organic farming methods.  But logic and sensibility prevailed. 

One day, the plant was gone.  I never knew exactly how she got rid of it.  I am pretty sure my brothers didn’t smoke it.  And I can’t imagine she set fire to it.  Whatever she did, it was gone, and that was that.

Except, for a while, it wasn’t.  For a few more summers, marijuana plants sprouted in the garden.  My mother would let them grow for a couple of weeks, and then dutifully pull them while they were still ankle-high. 

But now we had a new problem — the seeds, kept in the attic and no longer tossed into the garden, attracted mice.  On more than one occasion when I went up to my brothers’ room (most likely to read about secretaries’ panties), I saw baby mice stumbling about and moving very slowly.  Fortunately, high mice proved pretty easy to trap and kill.

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2 Responses to “Field of Dreams”

  1. Fancy Pancakes Says:

    What a hilarious post. Not only do you capture the humor (and tension!) of a random marijuana plant, you capture the personality of your mom. Wonderful story.

  2. tori Says:

    what a great story! seriously, it was the best thing i read all day, no joke!!!

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