The Sunflower

The Sunflower June 22, 2020

Today I replaced my ruined plants.

Not surprisingly, I wasn’t able to resurrect my broccoli. It might have worked on a cool day in early spring, with plants that had only been drying out in the heat a few minutes. But yesterday was a sweltering day. The broccoli died from my neighbor’s vandalizing rampage– two broccoli plants escaped her hands, but the six plants she uprooted and threw into the yard died. She also murdered one strawberry, and the backyard patch of sunflowers– and then she threw fresh wet dog droppings all over the front porch.

I was near tears at the thought of the tall orange and red striped sunflowers that never got to bloom, because my neighbor cut them down just to torment me. I was more heartbroken about those completely ornamental plants than the lost food. I love flowers. If we ever get rich enough, we’ll have our own house on a quarter acre with a bigger vegetable garden, a grape alley, chickens, a koi pond, a postage-stamp orchard and an apiary. I’ll grow a large patch of indigenous wildflowers for the pollinators and real eco-friendly clover lawn for Rosie to play on.  But we’ll also have a fussy front yard garden with climbing roses and a rainbow of different breeds of day lily. As it is, other than my vegetable garden, I have a messy yard, a small patch of mixed wildflowers from a dollar store box in the front, and those backyard sunflowers that are now just one-inch stems.

A few people from the neighborhood, I’ve discovered, read my blog; they reached out to me on Twitter and then left seeds and bean plantings on the porch, for which I’m grateful and astounded. It makes me not want to give up. They even gave me a packet of sunflower seeds.

I only needed a couple more plants to fill in the empty garden beds, which is good because there isn’t much left for sale this time of year.

The garden center at the grocery store was nearly picked clean, but not completely. There was no broccoli to replace my vandalized plants.  There were luxuriant tomato plants, some already blossoming, that I can’t keep in the yard because Michael has an allergy to the vines, and there were also beautiful hot peppers I can’t keep in the yard because Rosie likes to hunt and gather snacks in the summer without asking what’s safe to pick. But there was cilantro. I like cilantro. There was a single well-established black zucchini, which I’d despaired of getting earlier in the season. There were big packets of pea seeds for the fall. And there was the largest, most ambitions basil plant I’ve ever seen. It was nearly a basil tree.

The neighbor did not vandalize my little basil plant at home, which I named “Basil of Baker Street.” I’m naming this plant “Basil the Great.”

Saint Basil the Great is one of my fathers. There’s a Russian folktale that says Princess Vasilisa the Wise had four tsars for fathers, and I decided that I needed twice that many. The saints I adopted as my fathers are Daniel the Prophet, Elijah the Prophet, John the Baptist, John Chrysostom, Saint Nicholas, Saint Francis, Venerable Black Elk, and Saint Basil the Great. Basil the Great is the one who said “When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.”

I am trying to be faithful to that in my life. I fail every day, but that’s the goal.

The things that you have belong to the poor. If you have something that’s keeping you alive, it is your duty as a Christian and a decent human being to break off a piece of whatever it is and give some to someone who doesn’t have it. If you are one loaf of bread away from starvation and your neighbor is zero loaves away, you break the loaf in half or you sin.

I couldn’t sleep very well last night. Michael had promised to stay up until dawn and guard the garden, but I was still anxious. I kept starting awake at the slightest sound and then dozing back off. One of the times I dozed, I was thinking to myself: mercy is something that’s keeping me alive. Friends have mercy on me. When I was much poorer than I am now, they brought me food. Now, they are bringing me their extra seeds. That’s why I have to show mercy. If Jesus came into my backyard, struggling with a mental health crisis and wanting something to tear up to calm His anxiety and rage, wouldn’t I uproot a sunflower plant and hand it to Him, to make Him feel better? Couldn’t I think of the neighbor’s rampage that way?

I don’t think I can, but maybe I should.

I’d planned a whole list of booby traps for the garden: cowbells suspended on fishing line for her to trip on, strategically placed coat hangers. I was even going to buy an ugly garden gnome to put in the front yard and cover it with something sticky, like that African folktale about Ananse the Spider capturing Mmotia the Fairy-Who-No-Man-Sees by tricking her into slapping the gum baby. But Wal Mart didn’t have cow bells or a garden gnome.

I went home to do the planting.

As I got off the bus, I noticed my neighbor had beautiful new flowers on her front and back porches.

She always has such glorious potted plants. She never grows anything to eat or give away, but she cultivates a whole jungle on the porch–flowers, a palm tree, giant ferns like something a dinosaur would eat. Now she had even more new, pristine potted flowers spilling out onto the front steps, and flowers covering her back porch. There’s hardly even room to sit out on that porch, with all the flowers.

She’d gone on a rampage and destroyed my shoestring-budget plantings in the same twenty-four hour period that she treated herself to more purely ornamental plants. She’d made sure I didn’t get my backyard sunflowers the same day she got more flowers to enjoy for herself.

For a moment, and not for the first time, I was overwhelmed with white-hot hatred. I thought of another folktale, one I’ve told to you on this blog, the tale of the Tongue-Cut Sparrow. My next door neighbor was every bit as evil the wicked wealthy woman who cut out the sparrow’s tongue to satisfy her envy. I fantasized about the ending of that story– the treasure chest that turned out to be a box full of poisonous snakes, worms, stinging insects, demons, carrion birds, slimy toads, all pursuing my next door neighbor to the ends of eternity.

I planted the sunflower seeds, which are for a classic giant lemon-yellow variety, my second favorite kind. I pulled some more weeds. I checked on the mixed wildflowers I planted in the front– they were finally just beginning to bloom, little splotches of pink and blue. There are even three sunflower plants in the wildflower mix, still alive. The neighbor doesn’t know they exist, and so far she hasn’t touched the front garden. There is still hope.

I planted the bean plantings, the cilantro, the squash, and Basil the Great. I pulled up the spring peas which were sickly this year and already dying; I pulled up every weed in that patch and threw them on the compost with my murdered broccoli. Then I covered that garden bed with soaked cardboard, to kill off any more weeds for two weeks. In two weeks, I’ll compost the cardboard and plant autumn peas. I twisted the chicken wire from the pea trellis around the garden walk, to make it hazardous for a vandal to walk on. I can remove it when I go outside and put it back when I go in for the evening. I can even buy more chicken wire next month and put it in inconvenient places with my heavy-duty stapler, to make a much better obstacle course. I can hang bells from our Christmas ornaments on it to make a noise.

I went to trim the tall weeds that grow around the sides of the patio where Rose’s wading pool is. She has a bird feeder there, the wooden box kind that vomits seeds out of a thin slot into a tray on the bottom. The birds land in that tray and displace seeds, so the ground is littered with weeds there from where the birdseed germinated. One of the weeds was particularly tall and green, the leaves pointed in a way I recognized.

I didn’t cut that one down.

It was a sunflower.



Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross

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