Monday, November 07, 2011


Two more ligustrum are gone, the two that guarded either side of the front steps. They were well over six feet tall, too tall for me to trim from the ground, too dangerous to try to trim leaning off the porch, so they constantly sported asymetrical spikes of bright yellow and neon green that made them look like herbaceous rock stars.

I’d struggled with the decision for a long while. These two, unlike the one I’d dispatched back in February, had not come to me from a nursery in a tub of thin black plastic, but from Tattnall County in a fertilizer bucket of thick white plastic. Skinny, but tough little cuttings from Grandmama’s yard, she’d sent them home with Mama one day, ever convinced that anybody, even I, could make things grow.

Other than the two ligustrum, which I did manage to keep alive and see turn into sturdy fat sentries defending the entry to Sandhill, the only thing I have that belonged to Grandmama is the iron bed in the guest room. But Grandmama was a pragmatist and had she known the misery that ligustrum pollen inflicts upon my respiratory system, she would have looked at me, arms folded across her cotton print shirtwaist, and said, with just a bit of incredulity that the thought had not occurred to her educated granddaughter, "Pull ‘em up."

So we did.

Well, actually, Daddy did. But before the extraction, we – like country people do – stood and stared for a few minutes. Stood with our hands on our hips and stared at the bushes, at the steps they’d begun crowding, at the rocking chairs they hid from view. And when we had stared long enough, we bounced our chins in nods of satisfaction and confirmation that, yes, pulling up these bushes was, in fact, a good thing.

"I’ll go get the tractor and the chain," Daddy said and in a few minutes he was back with a tractor three times as big as he needed because it was the only one without a plow or something else hitched to it at the moment and with the chain.

I couldn’t tell you where that chain came from or how long Daddy’s had it. There’s never been but the one, as we say, and, unlike so many things around the farm that tend to get misplaced or broken or used up, it just always is. Ferrol Sams wrote, "In the beginning was the land. Shortly thereafter was the father." And, in my mind, sometime no later than the second or third day was the chain, already rusted to a dark river red.

The chain has pulled fallen pine trees from across the road, vehicles of various sorts from whatever spot they had broken down, and, at least once, a corn combine from a grown-over ditch where Daddy inadvertently drove it while trying to turn for the next pass. Years ago when our horse Sonny suddenly died one day from a congenital heart defect, the chain pulled him to his grave.

On this day, Daddy looped the chain around the trunk of the ligustrum, clicked the hook into one of the links, and jumped back onto the tractor where a quick thrust of diesel power ripped the roots from their place in the soil. Quick. Easy. Satisfying.

The tractor moved away leaving a wide curving wake across the front yard where the branches of the bush scraped across the already browning grass and I saw the landscape open up, the view from the porch that had been obstructed like some of the seats in old Shea Stadium suddenly clear and wide and bright in the autumn sunshine.

I could see sitting down in the rocking chair and see the mailman pull up to my mailbox. I could see all the way across the field to the spot where the deer come out in the late evening to eat. I could see farther than I’d seen in years.

We don’t often think of chains as beneficial. They fasten. They hold down. They rattle loudly while the Jacob Marleys of our pasts haunt our days with endless replays of scenes that didn’t work and scripts that need rewriting. They bind us with the strength of alloy steel to people and places and jobs that restrict movement and leave us atrophied and pale.

But sometimes chains are just what we need. A chain can clear your path or pull you home when you're broken. A chain can turn you around and bury what needs burying. And, when you’re ready to let go, a chain can open up a whole new way of seeing.
Copyright 2011

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A chain can also rattle and get your attention. Your article just got mine.
Thanks for sharing your columns and as much as I want to say this inspired me and moved me (it did), I'm really more thrilled to know how you move a dead horse. Lamar can tell you that I've lost sleep over that - not kidding :)