I’m in the Ford truck with my mother, having steadied her up into the cab earlier with promises of a typical landscaper’s adventure. We’re idling in a construction zone ten miles into the rural outback, sitting immobilized on one of the few paved roads around. It's time to turn off the engine. We've been aiming south and are just past Wank’s Garage. I’m glad to see he still waves to me, even as he’s made enemies with most folks in town.
Normally I'd be eager to share some gems of village politics with mom, seeing as there’s little else to do sitting here stopped in our tracks. But today I’m not up for it. I'm bored by my stories and doubtful of their entertainment value. I don't know if its me or Vermont that's the problem. But it seems as if one or the both of us has lost its charm. Maybe its the heat.
“You don’t have to get out of the truck when we get there, mom, if you don’t want to” I say. “After he loads the mulch, I just have to grab nine daylilies and a Japanese willow. But it is a fun place to look around if you’re up for it”.
“That’s fine, whatever you want to do is fine”, she says.
“I played music over there once,” I say, pointing vaguely towards the hills. “A trail-ride. It was fun. ” I don’t mention to my mother about the brain tumor our fiddler Tom developed after that gig or about the cider makers up the road whose son tattooed her own grandson’s arm with the symbol of Ceres, goddess of the harvest - using a ballpoint pen.
Finally the three cars that have been backed up behind the flagman for twenty minutes are allowed to move past and we continue south along the river, another twenty minutes to the nursery. I roll down the window as we turn up the steep drive because Chris is right there holding a clipboard and has spotted me; he’s wearing his signature lederhosen which is somehow so reassuring.
“Hey buddy, I got something for you.” I say, picking up the CDs, held with a rubber band and with the post-it note “CHRIS” on them, from off the bench seat of the Ford, where between me and my mother it seems like there’s a mile of empty space. “You got mulch today?”
He looks down at the package and he’s smiling to see a picture of me with a guitar - he had no idea. Somehow now I’m a little different from what I was last time I shopped for mulch. “What do I owe you for these? I can write you a check right away – I’ll meet you up there with the tractor in a minute”. He’s almost skipping up the drive towards the outbuilding that doubles as his office. I’m not sure if my mother is impressed.
But she’s definitely impressed as his tractor bucket hovers over the back of the truck she’s sitting in. The mulch is positively steaming, makes a mighty “whumph” as it hits the bed and jolts the suspension against the steady emergency brake. My hands are elbow deep in the hot material as I spread it to the sides and I can see her hands still gripping the door panel. It’s her first time.
Later we carry plants to the truck, my four to her two, making several trips and throwing them in the back. I pay Chris and he pays me and she’s getting ready to tackle the climb in again but she’s got it pretty well figured out now so before long we’re easing the Ford down the nursery driveway nice and slow - she asks me what was the joke – she heard Chris laughing, saying something to me about his ex-wife.
“It’s her birthday. And it’s also Flag Day. We were just wondering what the appropriate flag might be”.
“Oh”, she says. “He’s a nice fellow - I hope the ride home will be a little faster”.