I collect eggs from our little flock of hens throughout the week and store them in the refrigerator out in the garage. Then, on Thursday mornings, I take the eggs into the kitchen for a quick rinse and a thorough inspection before cartoning them up and delivering them to my regular egg customers.
I suppose I could wash, inspect, and carton each batch every day. But seeing row after row of my collected eggs drying on a dish towel on the kitchen counter somehow makes me feel fortunate and special. It’s a hopeful sight, all those eggs in a row. And it gives my Thursday mornings a sense of prosperity and promise.
So I wash the eggs, arrange them into neat rows, admire them for a bit, and then leave them to dry for an hour or so. On occasional lazy Thursdays, I’ll have a cup of coffee and perhaps do a little reading while the eggs dry. But on most Thursday mornings I attend to chores, or to jobs which I can do from home.
Recently my Thursday morning chore was weeding; and my thoughts were of my father.
These days I’m mostly weeding our small vegetable garden and ornamental beds. But my father’s weeding was all farm-related. On a farm, the plants have to be governed and controlled. The good ones are nurtured and the bad ones are sent into exile. Plain and simple.
Back in the day, our farm weeding was done with a hoe; on a tractor with carefully spaced disc blades running between the rows; or, more often than not, with bare hands.
I remember hand-weeding my way through a tobacco field with my father once day when I was a youngster. By that time in my life, most weeds were already familiar to me. But on this particular day I came upon a wayward plant that I didn’t recognize.
“Is this a weed?” I asked my father.
“Is it a tobacco plant?” he replied.
“Then it’s a weed.”
I’m sure I just stood there looking puzzled and chagrined. I was all about definitions and exactitudes back then. Finding meanings and affixing them where they belonged. Things simply had to make sense – and, to me at that time, this concept didn’t.
“A weed is always a weed,” I thought.
Without stopping his work, my father went on to say that any plant is a weed when it’s growing where it’s not wanted.
“Even a rose would be a weed in a tobacco field.”
I was dumbfounded.
I struggled to imagine myself pulling a rose up by its roots and callously tossing it out of the field to wither and die on a ditch bank .
The idea of a rose as a lowly weed was mind-blowing enough. But this brief exchange with my father while weeding a tobacco field also began to dislodge many of my young notions of right and wrong, good and evil, value and worthlessness.
Value/Goodness/Rightness isn’t necessarily inherent, I was being challenged to understand. Value/Goodness/Rightness, or any quality for that matter, is largely circumstantial.
I stood there thinking of all the plants I’d considered to be worthless weeds and had thrown on a ditch bank to die. Perhaps they’d all just been growing in the wrong places at the wrong times.
Then my father called back for me to “keep weeding.”
Now here I was, a grown man weeding again on a recent Thursday morning. I thought of plants, of philosophy, of fairness, and of the persistent wisdom of my father.
Once again I came upon an unfamiliar plant. It was unlike the other weeds I had pulled up and piled for disposal so far that day. But the odds were stacked against it.
I knew I hadn’t planted it. And it wasn’t one of the native plants I’d happily allowed to invade my garden. And it was growing a bit too close to the tea olive in any event.
But, as I grasped its young stem near where it emerged from the earth, I was halted by the thought that this one might be worth considering again.
So I loosened my grip and gave it a second look.
It was an Anemone! And beside it was another. And another, and another.
Even without its blooms, I would have easily recognized this plant in a seed catalogue or in a nursery. But, in the frenzy of weeding, I’d almost pulled out a veritable drift of them.
True, these Anemones would’ve been weeds in my father’s tobacco field. But I wanted them in my garden. And I was thrilled to discover them.
But how had they miraculously appeared? I had no idea. Nonetheless, I accepted the blessing and dutifully weeded around each and every one of the young specimens before tossing the pile of confirmed weeds into the chicken pen. (The chickens love it when I weed.)
Later, while delivering eggs, I realized the Anemone seedlings must’ve travelled in along with some nearby Hellebore transplants a friend had given me from her garden last year. I later thanked her profusely for the accidental gift.
Now I’m looking forward to a Thursday morning this fall when I’ll certainly sit for a bit to admire the Anemone blooms while the eggs dry and the chickens peck at yet another pile of weeds.
Derrick Ivey is an actor, directer, designer, and gentleman farmer who lives in Chatham County.