Between the dining hall and the classroom was a bottlebrush shrub. It was precisely machine trimmed with square edges, flat top and plumb sides. Conformed to a box, the nature within had lost its wildness. Only two red brushes survived the application of technology while the leaves shriveled and fell under the weight of fog lifting in the midmorning of thought.
The bushes reminded me of a happier time. A time when I ran through my grandmother’s garden. Down the concrete path and past the row of corn. Then turn and run past the rose. With feet flying and wind rushing around my yellow hair I ran beside the tall bottlebrushes. They reached to the sky! Red brushes, green leaves waving wildly in the air as bees dive past the running five year-old. The garden gave way to grass and I gave into rolling and laughing on the lawn. Then grandma appeared at the backdoor with a glass of milk and a package of cookies.
I thought the sad dinning hall bottlebrush might remember those times, so I sat down to talk to it. It’s thin branches barely smiled when I reminded them of the fun we had so many decades ago. Silence was answer I got when I asked if it had a story to tell.
So we sat, listening to the fog rise and the dishes clanking in the kitchen. The sky cleared to cloud as I smelled the hint of a poem. Someplace between my grandmother’s garden and here there was something …
My mother’s mother. Old when I was young. Once in her kitchen I announced, “I’m thirsty!”
“Well, I’m Leona, nice to meet you thirsty,” she replied with a big smile and bent over to shake my hand.
I remember she had a box of toys that she’d bring out when I visited. There was a boat, some blocks, some other things, but the boat I always took out. Grandfather was named Andy too. We were twins with the same name.
There was play money in an old coffee can in the box. Mother said that grandma was once a bank teller. I told grandma that I wanted to cash a check, so she took out a piece of paper and showed me how to write a check. She help me spell, “Five dollars.” When I’d signed my name, she counted out five one dollar bills from the can of play money. Then she started a savings account and I deposited two of my dollars in grandma’s bank.
Then I ran around the garden and rolled on the grass.
When I was 11, mother and father were having a fight and mother told me to ride my bike to grandma’s house. It was a refugee and grandma and I played Monopoly until mother called saying it was safe to come home.
Then when I was 12 my brother came to the boy scout summer camp I was at and took me home early so I could be at grandmother’s funeral – ending my days running through gardens, cashing play checks, and having a safe place to ride out a storm.
Sitting on the bench just outside the dining hall while waiting for class, I reminded the machine groomed shrub of those days and said that there must be a poem in there that needs to come out. The shrub just asked to hear more stories so I told it about Thanksgiving dinner, and Christmas presents and the socks I got for my birthday.
Asked shrub if it had a poem to share. I asked if it would help me write a poem. It said little only giving a hint or two and then it fell into grey silence.
I stopped a few more times to talk to the bottlebrush on the slope between the dinning hall and the classroom. I said I wished I knew how to make it wild and tall.
It just closed its eyes and pulled a coat of misty fog around its two red brushes.