Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rosemary and Time

He was late in arriving. The lunch crowd had dispersed and the restaurant was nearly empty. The blades of the ceiling fans caught the sunlight from the glass panels in the front doors and threw tiny trapezoidal flashes at the corners of my eyes. Tall plastic glasses of tea – his sweetened the right way, mine artificially so – sweated on the table between us.

The dialogue hardly seemed natural. We were talking so quickly, anticipating each abrupt turn of the conversation and segueing from one unrelated subject to another, that an eavesdropper could have mistaken the conversation as having been scripted by one of the Ephron sisters. We laughed out loud at sentences that didn’t need finishing and leaned forward on tented elbows to egg each other on in the telling of one tale after another.

Time passed too quickly and he had to go, head on down the road to the family wedding where he was expected. We walked outside toward our cars.

He stopped. "Ah, rosemary," he sighed, brushing his fingertips across the pointed stems of the plant in a large urn on the sidewalk. James is a landscape architect. He knows a thing or two about plants, including the Latin name for anything about which I’ve ever asked advice, so I was not surprised that he would stop and draw his fingertips up to his nose to breathe in the scent. "Don’t you just love rosemary?"

Yes. Yes, I do.

"Do you grow rosemary at Sandhill?"

"Yes. I have a couple of plants." I didn’t mention that I have struggled the last few years to keep those pitiful plants alive – moved them from one place to another to regulate sunlight, that I have watered more, watered less, watered not at all – all in an effort to make them look like these full and flush specimens that guard the front doors of one of my favorite eating places.

He smiled and said, "You know, rosemary grows where strong women live."

No. No, I didn’t know that.

And I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I would, if anyone asked, describe myself as strong. I work hard at anything I attempt. I carry more than my weight. I’ve survived a blow or two. And, yet, my rosemary was spindly and skinny and brown on the tips. It bothered me.

A few days later I was outside playing in the yard, as my Grandmama Anderson called her gardening, contemplating how to fill the blank space at the corner of the house where Daddy had pulled up the ligustrum bush. It occurred to me that I could transplant the rosemary from the big clay pots in which they had been residing into the ground where they could keep company with the verbena and a couple of miniature gardenias.

I lugged the pots from the front porch (I told you I was strong.), emptied them, loosened the roots, and dropped each of the plants into the holes I’d dug. I patted the dark dirt around their trunks and watered them well. And then I kinda sorta said a prayer, a rosemary blessing that would not be found in any missal or lectio divina. A few words along the line of, "Please, rosemary, grow."

Please, rosemary, prove that I am strong.

It’s been almost six months now since I put the rosemary in the ground. It is thriving. It is the color of a spruce tree just-cut in December. It is full and rounded like the skirt of a ball gown. It is growing taller and its scent is deeper. When I brush my fingertips across its stems it yields and springs back without losing any of its needles.

There had been nothing wrong with the rosemary. It hadn’t been diseased. It hadn’t been getting too much or too little light or water. It just needed to be loosed. It needed the freedom to stretch its roots beyond the artificial limits I’d unknowingly put on it.

I stand in the early evening light, leaning over the banister of the deck, staring down at the rosemary. The sounds of late summer pulse around me. I am thriving. I am full. I am growing. I can yield and spring back. I am strong. I am rosemary.
Copyright 2011

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